Saga Judging Angels (AU, Anakin/Padmé) - Author's Note (8/17/14)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Fate, Jan 5, 2012.

Moderators: Briannakin, mavjade
  1. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    Anakin seems to enjoy this little banter w/Padme. Hmmm.
    He does seem to be getting a kick out of it, doesn't he? He probably likes her. :p

    I too am glad he's not intimidated by the council. But you're portraying him as confident, so there's no need for intimidation.
    He's a couple of years older than in AOTC, and two years can do a lot when you're in your twenties, especially when you haven't had the experience of a relatively sheltered Jedi life. He has no real need to feel intimidated by the Council; he's not in the Order, so he's not bound by their rules.

    It'll be interesting to see how you progress this...
    A lot's going to happen in the next few chapters, and some of the enigma that is Anakin will start to come together.

    thanks for the PM update.
    You're very welcome. :cool: Thanks for reading and commenting so quickly. I'll have the next chapter up much sooner than this time around.


    Edit: Forgot a word. 8-}
  2. Venus_Star2-com Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 29, 2005
    star 2
    So, somewhere along the way Anakin has meant the Supreme Chancellor....

    You didnt say it was Palpy but still...I am worried....

    I liked the description of the council of the 12 when Padme said some time in the century...(tee-hee)

    Liked the banter at the end between Padme and Anakin...although I know its an anakin/padme romance I liked how its not there yet and it will take time (like Anakin needs to be a little humble ...just a little)
    but hey, I love the story anyhow and I am very happy you have updated

    Thank you for adding me to your list...


    Rachel
  3. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    Bless you for reviewing, Venus_Star2-com; I am pathetically grateful. ;) I actually kept myself away from the boards for a couple of days so I'd stop obsessively hitting the 'refresh' button. I'm dying to know what everyone thinks of the story; not so much praise for me, but things like questions about plot and comments on dialogue. Your comment made me wish I had a cup of cocoa or something; it's that bad. I'm starving for feedback.

    //end of tiresome whine (highlight to read if you're a glutton for punishment)


    So, somewhere along the way Anakin has meant the Supreme Chancellor....
    The plot thickens... [face_mischief]


    You didnt say it was Palpy but still...I am worried....
    I like that. Not that you're worried, of course, but that the story is keeping you guessing.


    I liked the description of the council of the 12 when Padme said some time in the century...(tee-hee)
    I read somewhere that it annoys people when the Jedi don't act like Jedi, so hopefully Padmé's "cheekiness" isn't going over the line. But since she was at least outwardly dutiful, it should be all right. :cool:


    Liked the banter at the end between Padme and Anakin...although I know its an anakin/padme romance I liked how its not there yet and it will take time
    It's way off-topic, but my favorite Disney tale has always been "Beauty and the Beast". Everyone else falls in love at first dance (not that you can always help it), but Belle keeps her wits about her. As a character, Padmé seems too pragmatic to be easily swept off her feet. But we'll see...


    (like Anakin needs to be a little humble ...just a little)
    I think there's more than a little pride on both ends. Anakin appears to think he's the sabercat's meow, and Padmé seems to think she's got Anakin completely figured out when she barely knows him.


    but hey, I love the story anyhow and I am very happy you have updated
    I'm really glad. :) And I hope you'll get angry at many more characters and scenes as things progress. It's not a "drama" if everything runs smoothly, is it? ;)

    Re: posts, I've fallen behind the "week to 10 days" schedule I'd originally intended. This story has the frustrating way of coming together everywhere except where I want it to (i.e., I'm working on Chapter 3, and lo! here come chapters 5, 6, and 7.). I'll have the next chapter very soon - tomorrow or the day after.


    Thank you for adding me to your list...
    You're very welcome, Rachel! Thank you for your comments; they made my day. :)
  4. Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jan 25, 2006
    star 5
    Love Anakin's confidence--he reminds me a bit of Han here, cocky but in an easier way. I also like how Padme is wrestling with the dreams, plus feelings that aren't typical for a Jedi--like worrying about her appearance. It is an interesting way of switching around what we're familiar with. Great update--looking forward to Padme's next plan.
  5. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    he reminds me a bit of Han here, cocky but in an easier way.
    I love Han, but I'm glad there's a bit of distinction appearing between the two. It's a bit hard to create a unique personality in a universe where most fall in the basic categories of "good", "evil", "conflicted" and "rogue".

    I also like how Padme is wrestling with the dreams, plus feelings that aren't typical for a Jedi
    She's definitely still Padmé, but the Jedi aspect of her personality should come into sharper focus as time goes on.

    Great update--looking forward to Padme's next plan.
    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Luna_Nightshade. :cool:


    All: In looking over this thread, I realize that I've several times promised "quick" updates and failed to deliver. I truly apologize for this, particularly since I've recently learned it's a major peeve (sorry; can't find the exact page). The truth is that this is a lot more difficult than I'd anticipated. The story is about 80% written, but that missing 20% isn't going down without a fight. (Case in point: Chapter 4 is written except for the opening paragraph.) And then this deeply critical "thing" has reared its ugly head.

    Where's the description? it keeps demanding. You call this a plot? How can you think of posting this tripe?

    I know you guys are here for a story, not for my whinging, but I did want to explain what's behind these delays. I'm choking; I'm freezing up. So I really can't promise when the next post will be.

    But thanks to everyone for reading. :)
  6. Geezerette50 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Dec 28, 2003
    star 1
    I sense a well of despair in your Padme. There is a lot of forboding of tragedy.
  7. Venus_Star2-com Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 29, 2005
    star 2
    Now that the board is up and running I do hope that you plan on continuing this fresh, orginal and amazing story!
    Ceillean likes this.
  8. Venus_Star2-com Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 29, 2005
    star 2
    I decided to write another post here in the hopes the many others get the chance to stumble on this unique and orginal story line.
    You have written a belivable Padme-as-a-Jedi story and also have an Anakin that----even know he hasn't been trained as a Jedi---there is a feeling that he has been learning on the side ( or maybe I am wrong...I don't know you tell me)

    I really hope that you are out there and haven't fallen off the face of the Earth...

    Rachel
  9. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    I'm back! And I've been busy...

    The new board 'thing' scared me off, but I've been working on the story in the meantime, so I've got several chapters ready for you guys. Even better, I seem to have gotten through my writer's block (first novel-length fic = all kinds of "issues").

    I'm so grateful to all of you for your patience with me. I know it's irritating having to wait months for a story, but rest assured, I will finish this one.

    I'm unhappy with how my previous posts have been truncated, so I'll try to work my way through them one by one. But firstI believe I owe you guys a chapter. :) (Edit: Apparently, a fix is already in the works... but I don't feel like waiting, so I've decided to post all of the missing chapters here in the interests of time; I'm sure the mods are busy with a million other stories.)

    Huge thanks to Venus_Star2-com (aka Rachel) for bumping the story in my absence. I didn't recognize your screenname when I replied to you earlier today. You already know what's on the way, so don't let them get it out of you. ;)



    Complete Chapters:



    ***********************************

    Prologue (or, The Dealer)


    ***********************************

    ·:·

    If life was a game of luck, Fate was the dealer. She dealt you a hand at birth, and you played with what you got. Sometimes you got ahead, usually you fell behind, and the house always won in the end. Still, every now and then, your hand inexplicably altered, almost as if someone swapped cards with you when you weren't looking.

    Many years later, Anakin Skywalker could still remember the first day his cards had changed.

    .
    ·:·
    ·

    "Well, young one, have you decided? Will you join me to become a Jedi?"

    Anakin hesitated. He feared what he was about to say would deeply hurt a man he'd much rather not. But it couldn't be helped.

    He looked at his sand-dusted foot coverings, then back into the kindly blue eyes of the man who knelt before him. "I've decided, Master Qui-Gon. I… I won't go with you. I can't. Not without my mom. She needs me."

    A troubled expression passed over Qui-Gon's face. "Anakin," he said carefully, "I greatly admire your concern for those who love you. I admire your willingness to make sacrifices for them. And as for your mother…" He sighed and looked away. "Anakin, I would give anything to free her. But it is simply not in my power."

    Anakin looked at his foot coverings again, suddenly uncomfortable. "I know, Master Qui-Gon," he said, nodding slowly. "I understand. You have to follow the Jedi rules."

    The troubled expression on Qui-Gon's face deepened into a frown. "Yes," he said quietly. "I must follow the Jedi way. I may not betray my mandate." His voice held calm resignation, but when Anakin checked, his face looked like he had just tasted something bitter.

    Anakin looked up anxiously. "Please, Master Qui-Gon, don't be mad at me. I remember what you told me—about my 'destiny'." He looked down again. "I'm sorry that I'll never be a Jedi."

    Qui-Gon Jinn looked him over for a long while. "Peace, Anakin," he said at last. "It is your life. You must choose your path through it; it is your right. But whatever your choice, I am convinced that a bright future awaits you, far beyond the Tatooine suns, and that you will take your proper place in the galaxy in the end. And as for 'never' becoming a Jedi"—here the older man's regal features crooked into a grin—"I wouldn't be so dire, young one. 'Never' is quite a long time. If it is the will of the Force, you will become a Jedi, however long it takes." He paused, and the grin faded from his face. "And if it is the will of the Force… we shall see one another again." He stood up. "But now I must leave you."

    Anakin's lower lip quavered. "I hate goodbyes."

    "All life is ending and beginning again, young one." Smiling, Qui-Gon tucked his long arms into the folds of his tunic. "But as I am of a similar feeling, let us simply say, 'May the Force be with you.'"

    .
    ·:· ·:·
    ·

    From the small opening in the outer wall of her living quarters, Shmi Skywalker had observed the entire proceedings. Her heart swelled as she watched the tall, stately Jedi conversing with her little boy as though with an equal, then gave a sudden lurch at the sight of Anakin moving away from him, first with slow steps, and then breaking into an all-out run. The interview had ended, and Shmi knew Anakin would be off as quickly as possible to get away from any unwelcome feelings of sadness or loss. Still, though knowing he would return, she hated to see him leave her even for a moment.

    A slight tap at the portal caught her attention. She moved to open it, smoothing back her hair.

    "Master Qui-Gon," she said warmly. "Do come in, please."

    "Thank you." He ducked his head beneath the low threshold to enter.

    Shmi led the way to the dining area, gesturing to a chair which was solid, if roughly made. "Will you sit?"

    Qui-Gon Jinn eased into the seat, crossing his booted legs.

    "Do you take tea?"

    "Please."

    Shmi reached for a small container of dried olus leaves and made for the kitchen. When crumpled in liquid, the leaves produced a flavorful beverage smelling of flowers. They also had the pleasing effect of steaming in cold water, which made them a refreshing favorite on a planet where no one would think of drinking anything hot until long after the suns were down. In a few moments, she returned with a large mug for Qui-Gon and a small cup for herself. Carefully, she handed the Jedi his drink, then sat across from him and took up her own. Several minutes ticked off in companionable silence.

    After a time, Qui-Gon put down his mug. "Anakin has given me his answer. He will remain on Tatooine for the present. We have said our farewells."

    "He is gone, then?"

    "Yes. He is off to play with his young friend Kitster."

    "Now he is free, he may play as much as he likes." But a wistful expression passed over Shmi's face.

    Qui-Gon looked at her carefully. "Are you pleased with his decision?"

    "I am happy to keep him with me," Shmi admitted. "But I had rather he went with you to become a Jedi. It's what he's always wanted."

    "Anakin must make his own choices," Qui-Gon said simply. "That is the meaning of freedom."

    "But I am afraid he has missed his only chance. He may repent of it later."

    Qui-Gon took another sip of the cool, fragrant tea. "Anakin doesn't seem the sort to waste time on regret. And the Force appears to indicate that his life will be filled with many such opportunities."

    Shmi took this in quietly.

    "However, his decision does raise a new possibility," Qui-Gon continued. "Watto intimated he felt the boy was worth more than his mother. I will never grasp this concept of placing monetary value on sentient lives, but perhaps it can be used to your advantage."

    "What do you suggest?"

    "Watto may be persuaded to release you instead, and provide a hefty sum to make up what he sees as the balance. You could then give your son a more comfortable home, and perhaps an education, while he waits for his circumstances to further improve."

    Shmi shook her head firmly. "I want Anakin to take his freedom now, whatever his circumstances in it. He does not have the heart for servitude that I have learned. He will never accept a slave's life quietly. In time, it will destroy him." Rising, Shmi collected the empty cup and mug, took them back into the small kitchen, and began wiping them clean with a tattered cloth. "It's better this way. This way, he has an opportunity for a better life now."

    Qui-Gon regarded her quietly. "And you, Shmi? What of your life?"

    She paused for a moment, as if the question were a new one. "I am content," she said at last, turning to meet the Jedi's gaze. "And Anakin is a clever boy. He will find a way to free me someday. He has said so many times."

    Qui-Gon rose slowly from his seat. "I am moved by the purity of your spirit and the strength of your will. You speak soft, sure words you are certain must be true. Anakin is favored to have you."

    Shmi smiled. "I am a mother, Qui-Gon. That is all."

    "No," he replied calmly. "You are far more. In another life..." Grasping her by the shoulder, he peered into her face with such keen intensity, she was certain he could see to the depths of her soul. Her throat clenched down an unexpected sob. With warmth filling her eyes, she pressed his palm to her lips, then abruptly turned away so he wouldn't see the tears fall.

    "Farewell, Master Jedi."

    She sensed him standing behind her for several moments, and then heard the measured tread of his boots taking him out of her home, out of her life. The tears were falling in earnest now. Taking up another frayed cloth, she began scrubbing her cooking panel furiously, only to pause when she heard the boots pause. There was a low thunk, another pause, and then the muffled scrapes of nerf leather digging into sand, growing fainter each instant. A few seconds more, and all Shmi could hear was the ordinary milling about of passersby. Still, she remained bent at the cooking panel for a long while, feeling the day grow cooler as evening approached. It was the thought of evening that brought her back to herself.

    I must prepare our meal. Anakin will be home soon.

    Sighing, she turned around, intending to arrange the table setting at once. But an unfamiliar object on the platform near the entryway stopped her in her tracks. Shmi was still examining it with wonder when a distant voice piped a greeting. Within moments, Anakin raced into the tiny home with sand trailing from his foot coverings, bringing the smells of the brisk evening in with him. Smiling broadly, Shmi shook her head. Greeting her son at day's end was something like welcoming a small tempest: everything was noise and excitement, everything was everywhere, and everywhere was sand.

    "...and then I told Kitster about how now Watto can never, ever hit me any more, or even yell, no matter how mad he gets, ever again, because now I get to be free, and Kitster thinks it's really—what's that, Mom?"

    "Oh, Ani," Shmi said happily. "Look at what Master Jedi Qui-Gon has left for you. Isn't it wonderful?" She held out the gift, and Anakin took it carefully into his hands.

    "It's a Coruscanti datapad, just like the Jedi use." Shmi crouched down to look her son in the eye. "Now you can learn all about different planets and their histories, and you can even learn languages and sciences. It will teach you, Anakin. It will teach you everything you wish to know."

    Anakin eyed it nervously. "Will you help me learn?"

    "Of course, my darling."

    Anakin looked up at her solemnly. "I'll never forget him, Mom."

    Resisting the urge to pull her son into a tight embrace—Anakin did not relish hugs—Shmi contented herself with fondly smoothing the hair from his sticky forehead. "Nor he you, my love," she said softly, giving the boy a gentle nudge toward the 'fresher. "Nor he you."

    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·


    Twelve years had passed since that bittersweet day, and Anakin Skywalker hadn't looked back. But though life had long since taught him to be alert, to pay attention even when nothing seemed amiss, he was still unprepared for the vision about to enter his world, altering it forever.



    For the rest of his life he would ask himself how he hadn't seen it coming.


    To the end of his days he would wonder just when Fate swapped his deuce for a Queen.



    ·:·

    Pronunciation Guide:

    Chapter 1 -

    Zade ("ZAYd"); Sulmari ("sool-MAHR-ee"); Cysm ("SIZ-zum"); Toph-Rin-San ("tawf-rinn-SAHN")

    (The next addition to this will come with Chapter 5.)



    **************************************

    Chapter 1: Face of an Angel


    **************************************

    ·:·

    In another life, she might have been queen. It wasn't so much her form, which was slight, or her appearance, which, while lovely, was not extraordinary in a galaxy with myriads of dazzling creatures. It wasn't even her birth. Her father had ended his political career several years before her arrival, her mother had never aspired to one in the first place, and the end of it was that she'd been born into the comfortable but modest home of a simple family that made its aim to live quietly. There was little place for ambition in such surroundings, small room for grandiose thinking under such circumstances. In short, Padmé Naberrie possessed few of the accoutrements typically associated with greatness. And yet she was great, though she did not know it.

    She might have guessed it, however, from the attention she drew wherever she went. If asked, none of her admirers could have explained just what it was about her that they found so appealing. Some would have mentioned her soft lips and expressive mouth, without recognizing that the real attraction lay in the glint of her grin, which was a bit crooked. Many would have pointed to the luminosity of her large brown eyes (she had the unsettling habit of turning them straight on you), without realizing that their true appeal lay in a certain something behind thema sort of earnest innocence that all of Coruscant's glittering decadence had been unable to taint. It was as if, long after she was old enough to know better, she truly believed she could improve the universe through sheer strength of will. It was this belief, this earnestness, which caused her to gain the confidence of others without trying for it, and it was this ease in gaining confidence that would have made Padmé a fine queen.

    But it was not to be. By some perverse turn of the dice, her quiet life was upended, and Naboo as she knew it ceased to be long before she could dream of ruling it.

    .
    ·:·
    ·

    The cool air was choked with exhaust, and artificial sunlight danced on the countless gleaming surfaces that gave the planet its name. With alarm signals blaring, a slew of harried commuters swerved into a small airspeeder's path, and thenjust as suddenlycame to a dead stop.

    Alone in the speeder, Padmé sighed.

    I still don't understand why I have to be here.

    She fought the urge to berate herself for not taking a hoverbus. It didn't do any good to dwell on her error; it wouldn't change the situation at hand. Still, she didn't have to just sit there in Coruscant's legendary rush-hour air traffic, simmering with irritation. With a nod, she jerked the controls to the upper right, cutting through several stacked rows of stalled vehicles. Angry blasts and gestures greeted her, but she simply continued on her way, sending out waves of calm and peace as best she could.

    I'm sorry for your distress, but I have problems of my own.

    After descending a few dozen levels, she straightened out the speeder and renewed her search. Shops might be grittier in the lower levels, but they were also less crowded. It wasn't long before she located a promising sector. She could only hope it would have what she'd spent the entire day looking for.

    As she approached one of several landing platforms, she thought of her current assignment and frowned. She could guess its aim. Its aim was to teach her humility in preparation for the Jedi Trials, which were themselves intended to prepare her for a lifetime of quiet duty and willing sacrifice. But as much as she understood her master's good intentions, and as much as she wanted to be agreeable, she really didn't like her current assignment. No. She hated it.

    "You don't have to like it," her master had informed her. "But you do have to do as you're told. A Jedi is unflinchingly obedient."

    Well, here I am, being 'unflinchingly obedient'.

    Rolling her eyes, she pulled the speeder toward an appropriate spot on the landing platform, eased it to a stop, and paused to scowl again.

    I've got to have the most over-protective master in the entire Jedi Order.

    Swinging her legs over the left side, she leapt to the duracrete beneath and began marching towards a cluster of shops in the distance. Though she knew it was childish, she found herself stomping.

    Zade got to liberate a captive world. Sulmari got to investigate a syndicate-owned fuel reactor plant. Obi-Wan Kenobi got to take on the first Sith apprentice in thousands of years, and twelve years later, the Order's still talking about it.

    She jabbed a navigation panel on her datapad console, pulling up a descriptive list of the nearby shops.

    Cysm's out exploring Wild Space. Toph-Rin-San is saving Dantooine from an imploding star. And me?

    Sighing, she scrolled through the list.

    I get to stay on Coruscant. I get to source my own lightsaber parts.

    A few shops looked promising, but Padmé felt her patience dwindling. She wanted to be back in the Temple, reading lore or meditating in the Gardens. She'd never manifested interest in any aspect of the mechanical world beyond a few admittedly fascinating courses in applied astrophysics, and no interest at all in Jedi weaponry. More to the point, she intended to become a Consular after passing the Trials, not a Guardian, and thus hoped to rarely be called upon to use her weapon. Surely, her master must have realized

    A sudden bright ray of light flashed from a nearby surface, dazzling her. Squinting, she could just make out the entrance to the newest of the three shops she'd been considering.

    Pulling her hood forward with a shrug, she walked in.
    .
    ·:· ·:·
    ·

    After many minutes spent wandering from aisle to aisle, Padmé faltered to a stop. All of the battered shelving units looked equally cluttered, equally baffling. Sighing in frustration, she twisted her Initiate's braid between thumb and forefinger, worrying her lip.

    "You lost, Angelface?"

    Padmé whirled around. Immediately before her, propped against a durasteel counter, leaned a young man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. Though his hands were busy fiddling with the mechanical innards of what looked like a mini-homing droid, he kept his blue eyes trained on her. It was as if he didn't need to actually observe his task to accomplish it.

    Grinning, he tossed a wink at her.

    Padmé looked the young man over from his tousled hair to his scruffy boots, then nodded. Nothing was amiss. She'd encountered many others like him, and had managed all of them successfully. In fact, the attentions that had once mortified her now merely annoyed her, and occasionally they even proved useful. Today, for instance, this particular young man might help expedite her errand so she wouldn't have to spend any more time in this scrap pit than necessary.

    "Thank you, I would welcome assistance," she intoned, bowing in formal greeting. "Perhaps you can direct me to the"

    "What's your name?"

    Oh, Force, Padmé thought wearily. Here we go.

    "I am Padawan Naberrie," she said stiffly.

    Not seeming discouraged in the least, the young man gave her another disarming grin. "Ah," he said, shifting to lean back on his left elbow, "'Padawan'. So you're a Jedi, yeah? That would explain the..." He gestured vaguely at her voluminous gray robes. "Not exactly the height of Coruscanti fashion."

    Padmé inclined her head. "Indeed. 'A Jedi knows"

    "no possession,'" he finished smoothly.

    Padmé glanced up at him, startled. "You are familiar with our Order?"

    An odd expression came into the young man's eyes. "You could say that."

    What a curious individual.

    Resisting an impulse to probe the Force for a resolution to this mystery, Padmé returned to the task at hand, resuming her perusal of the motley items strewn on the store shelving. One by one, she questioned them, Are you what my master would have me use?

    After several more minutes, the young man interrupted her search again. "I'm Anakin Skywalker," he offered.

    How nice for you, Padmé thought. Why was he still attempting to communicate? She was openly ignoring him.

    A few more moments ticked off in silence. Then she heard the young man lay down his welding laser. "It's on the top shelf, Angelface," he said. "Right side. Behind the copper conduits."

    She glanced over her shoulder, this time making no secret of her irritation. "What is?"
    Placing his palms on the counter behind him, he crossed his booted legs at the ankle. "Your power cell."

    He said it so simply, so calmly. As if rather than wandering around in the throes of bewilderment for over thirty standard minutes, she had simply walked up to him and announced her errand.

    'It's on the top shelf,' she inwardly mimicked. 'Right side.' Well, that's all fine and well when you're nearly two meters tall.

    Shaking her head, she looked about for a stepstool.

    "Don't worry," the young man called Anakin said easily, moving from his counter at last. "I'll get it for you."

    And as he made his fluid way across the room, Padmé couldn't help but admire him. He moved his limbs with an casual, almost languid grace. The cramped parts shop was hardly a study in ergonomic correctness, yet he seemed comfortable amid its jumble, nimbly avoiding jutting corners and rusty outcroppings. He could have been a dancer, she mused.

    Or a Jedi Knight.

    She blinked at the traitorous thought, then sternly told herself not to be silly. This person called Skywalker was indeed a beautiful, perhaps even a splendid man, but she had seen beautiful men before this day. The Force in its bounty had produced many glorious creatures.

    "Hey. Here you go."

    Padmé started. Apparently, the said glorious creature had been standing before her, power cell in hand, for several moments. She hadn't even seen him reach for it.

    "Oh," she said absently. "Yes. Thank you." She looked up at him. "How many credits do I owe you?"

    He waved a hand. "Don't worry about it."

    Padmé eyed him carefully. "I appreciate your generosity"

    "It's nothing."

    "but I couldn't think of accepting it," she finished. "I was sent to purchase an item, and I was given credits for that purpose. I must know how many to give you."

    "I won't take any of them," the young man said, easily enough, but something about his expression brooked no argument.

    Exasperated, Padmé flung up her free hand. "Why not? How did you even know I needed a power cell?"

    Though the young man's blue eyes shone with mirth, deep within them glowed the fire of a challenge both accepted and welcomed. It was as if he relished combat with such a worthy opponent.

    He shrugged. "What, you think you're the first Jedi that's ever walked in this shop? I've seen heaps of your kind before, Angelface."

    Padmé narrowed her eyes. "What exactly do you mean by 'my kind'? And why do you keep calling me that?"

    Ignoring the first question, he answered the second. "Why do I keep calling you 'Angelface'?" He shrugged again. "Because you have the face of an angel."

    Now Padmé's eyes widened. "The face... of an angel?"

    "Yeah. You look like one."

    Padmé sputtered. Her eyes darted around the room, unsure of where to land. "And... have you ever actually seen an angel?"

    The young man shook his head. "No. But I heard from a Corellian spice miner that they're the most beautiful creatures in the galaxy."

    For a moment, Padmé's breath caught in her throat. She felt herself reddening. And then, abruptly, she burst into laughter. "I'm sorry," she gasped. "But a Corellian spice miner told you this?"

    The young man looked at her steadily. "Yeah. When I was nine years old."

    Padmé looked at her boots, feeling strangely ashamed of herself. "Well," she said hesitantly. "I don't know what to say to that."

    "You must be used to compliments."

    "I never know how to take them."

    "Say 'thank you'."

    Padmé considered the fraying hem of her robe, then looked up at the young man. "Thank you," she said softly. "Thank you for the compliment..." In a horrible moment, she realized she'd forgotten his first name.

    "It's Anakin," he said, smiling.

    "Thank you... Anakin," she repeated, inclining her head. "For everything."

    "It was no trouble at all, Angelface."

    Grasping the power cell, Padmé inclined her head again and turned to go. Then, halfway out the door, she spun around, realizing something.

    "Wait a minute!"

    The young man called Anakin looked up.

    "I've had my back to you and my hood on the whole time I've been in here. You didn't even see my face until you called me and I turned around. For all you knew, I had the face of a gundark."

    For a moment, he merely looked at her. Then he pointed to a small pane of transparisteel adorning the right side of the room. "I saw your face when you passed that window..."he paused to check a wall chrono"...forty-two minutes ago."

    "Oh." Padmé blushed. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered.

    Grinning, he shrugged his lean shoulders. "Forget it." Reaching for his welding laser, he returned his attention to the crippled homing droid. "Take care of yourself, Angelface. And if you ever need spare parts, I'm your man."

    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·

    I'm your man... I'm your man...

    The rest of the evening passed in a daze. Padmé didn't really remember restarting her speeder, ascending to the top levels of the city, or returning to the Temple. She couldn't precisely recall walking through its vaulted entryway, using the lift, or even entering the sparse but comfortable quarters she shared with her Master. It had all gone by like a soft mist, and now she sat numbly before her evening meala curried lentil stew from the previous eveningtaking slow mouthfuls without tasting them.

    "You seem a little preoccupied, Padawan."

    Turning, Padmé smiled warmly at her Master, whom she hadn't heard approach. "Not at all."

    The older man took his seat, arranging the folds of his robe around him. "Was the day a success?"

    She rose to get an empty bowl. "It was, Master. I've finished the first part of my assignment."

    "Oh?"

    "The diatium power cell was the hardest piece, but I finally found one today. I paid a little visit to the lower levels." Placing the bowl before him, she filled it with a generous amount of steaming stew before returning to her seat.

    After silently bowing his head for several moments, he shook it with a wry grin. "Good old Coruscant. Go deep enough, find whatever you wantand a lot that you don't."

    Padmé nodded her agreement, taking another mouthful of stew.

    "Well, that's good news, Padmé," he said after a few spoonfuls, "because I'm going to need your help. I know you aren't enjoying your current assignment, so I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this."

    Stifling a sigh, Padmé put down her utensil and gave the older Jedi her full attention. "What would you have me do, Master?"

    He paused, steepling his fingers. "You know I've been busy on Kuat, trying to help the local officials reach a settlement. It hasn't gone well. What you may not know is that Kuat Drive Yards sources all our ships and supplies all their parts. But with this... conflict of theirs, they're out of commission for the time being, which grounds all Jedi aircraft indefinitely."

    Padmé nodded, fighting back a yawn.

    "Our Delta-7s are the hardest-hit, since they're the ones we use most often, and were the last to be upgraded. We can't afford to do without them while Kuat figures itself out. It's part of why I've kept you here on Coruscant. We need to find someone who can help us. Someone local."

    Suddenly alert, Padmé froze, hardly daring to breathe.

    "So," the older Jedi concluded, "while you do need to finish assembling your lightsaber, now you have a new assignment. I want you to help the Council find an appropriate contractor. Preferably someone who knows a good mechanic."

    Instantly and unbidden, the image of Anakin Skywalker flashed up in Padmé's mind.

    His laughing blue eyes seemed almost to be daring her.



    *****************************************

    Chapter 2: Visions of the Past


    *****************************************


    ·:· ·:·

    In the darkness, she heard him calling her. He wore a delicate mask of finely wrought alabaster, and she ran to him. When he folded her into his arms, she nearly wept from happiness. Shyly, she reached up to caress the exquisite mask. As he took her by the shoulders with thick black gloves, she peered into the artificial face, squinting for a glimpse of reality behind the façade. While she searched, the gloved fingers slid over her shoulders, eased around her neck, and began constricting.

    It always happened that way, but she never remembered, and was always shocked. She scrabbled at the hands about her throat, filled with horror as the mask, though remaining stark white, began shifting from lovely into eerie and ominous. Its cheekbones grew cuttingly severe, its mouth drew a gaping grimace, and when two cavernous sockets loomed forth in place of its eyes, she saw it for the skull that it was. The breathing behind it became heavy and mechanical, and as she gasped for air, her own voiceless screams filled her ears.

    /[ Padmé. ]/

    While she continued to struggle, she felt a wave of calm wash over her, carried by a familiar presence in the Force. Still, her screams grew louder.

    /[ Padmé. ]/

    Padmé stretched out with her senses, straining for something beyond her terror.

    /[ ... Master? ]/

    /[ Peace. ]/

    /[ I... I can't breathe! He's choking me. Why? ]/

    /[ Calm your mind, Padawan. ]/

    Padmé clawed at her throat. The gloves had dissolved into pitiless obsidian, a skeletal grip sinking into her skin. She kicked out desperately, but her legs hit nothing but air.

    /[ He's c h o k i n g me! ]/

    /[ He's not real. Peace, Padmé. ]/

    Not real?

    Almost as soon as she thought the words, the vise about her throat eased. But while she was finally able to draw a ragged breath, the terrifying image remained, and her eyes welled with tears.

    /[ ... I'm afraid. ]/

    /[ Your fear makes him stronger. Starve it. 'There is serenity.' ]/

    /[ I ... can't ... ]/

    /[ Look for the light, Padmé. Remember? ]/

    /[ The light? ]/

    /[ It will always prevail, Padawan. ]/

    The light...

    Suddenly remembering, Padmé turned up her right palm. Two specks of bright light shimmered within it, casting a soft glow so lovely that even the garish creature before her now seemed agreeable. She held out her hand in welcome, but it staggered away from her, retreating into the shadows. As she began walking towards it, the tiny lights grew larger and larger, and the frightful vision began melting away. Just before it dissolved completely, she had a fleeting impression of a beautiful young man—she could never make out his face—reaching for her with slender fingers, then disappearing in a flash of blinding white.

    The oddest part of the dream came just before she woke from it. Instead of feeling relieved by her attacker's disappearance, she found herself filled with incomprehensible sadness. A terrible, yearning ache filled her heart, climbed up her throat, and woke her with wracking sobs.
    .
    ·:·
    ·

    Alone in the Council chamber, the Jedi Master considered. There were still a few hours before the first session convened, so he had the place to himself. In the dim predawn light, the chamber looked even solemner than usual. He glanced at the chairs, and the chairs glanced back. He smiled, enjoying the quiet.

    Carefully, he reached through the bond he shared with his Padawan, flinching against the anguish he still sensed there. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. It had been several years since Padmé had last had the nightmare.

    You really should've let her handle it, he chided himself. She'll have to face it on her own one day.

    He shook his head ruefully. It was wrong to feel so protective of her. A Jedi knew no attachment. Still...

    Easing back in his chair, he called to mind the first moment he'd seen her.

    .
    ·:· ·:·
    ·

    Galactic news pundits put it all to retribution for past wrongs, but everyone knew it was Nute Gunray. For while it was undeniable that belittling portrayals of Gungan civilization had ever been a hallmark of human Naboo lore, they had never approached the virulent strain of speciesism depicted by the Trade Federation. And though there had always been contention between human and Gungan Naboo, and the offensive propaganda had only sparked the conflagration, when the "secret reports" were "leaked" to Boss Nass, and the Gungans vowed war, everyone knew it was the Trade Federation that pledged their support, their protection, and their weapons. Everyone knew it was their newly-minted droid army that invaded Theed, deposing King Veruna and installing Boss Nass in his stead. Everyone knew it was Viceroy Gunray that held the real reins of power over the planet now, and even the most bombastic of holonet broadcasters privately held him culpable for the entire tragedy. But that didn't save Naboo.

    Though the civil war raged for several months, Gunray's victory was certain from the start, and when the human Naboo resistance finally fell, it collapsed utterly, with little left for the droid army to do but sift through the carnage for exploitable survivors. Within weeks of the climax of their bloody coup against the humans, fissures began among the Gungans themselves, and by the turn of the year, the planet resembled a military autocracy, with wealth and privilege for an elite Gungan caste, despair and poverty for the remaining masses, and absolute power in the hands of Nute Gunray.

    With a few notable exceptions, the Jedi had felt it best not to intervene. After all, the conflict appeared an internal affair, which rendered Jedi interference inappropriate. But as the months passed and the death toll of both human and Gungan Naboo continued to rise, the Jedi came to realize that what they were witnessing was the potential extermination of not one, but two species. Concluding that to do nothing was to share the blame, they dispatched two Knights to restore order to the stricken planet.

    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·

    The afternoon light was fading from its sky when two men stepped into the remains of a lovely home. It had been a long day.

    "I sense a living being," announced Mace Windu.

    "We won't hurt you, little one," his companion called softly.

    Mace looked at him curiously, and Qui-Gon Jinn grinned.

    "I sense a little girl."

    Stretching beyond their sight, the two Jedi peered through the gloom. Though debris was all that met their vision, they made their way steadily toward a large heap of rubble in the corner of the room.

    Mace pointed. "There."

    Slowly, they approached the center of the life force they sensed shining in the darkness like a beacon. They were less than a meter from it when they heard a soft gasp, and the rubble quivered. It was only then that they realized what it was.

    "A protection bubble," whispered Qui-Gon, and Mace nodded. But before they could discuss the matter further, the makeshift cave collapsed. Acting quickly, Mace dove into the crumbling pile, pulled out the small being—who was indeed a little girl—and flung her safely clear of the falling debris. She opened her mouth to scream, realized she was floating to the ground rather than hurtling towards it, and snapped it shut again. But the instant her bare feet touched the ground, she took off running.

    Mace rolled his eyes. "I should have kept her in the air. We don't have time for this, Qui-Gon."

    "Stop, please," Qui-Gon called.

    Incredibly, the young girl did, turning to peer up at the Jedi with large brown eyes. They were so large, they almost swallowed up her face, and so brown that they were what honey would be when it grew older. Directly beneath her button nose was a small, dark pink mouth that frowned at them.

    "What is your name, little one?"

    She was silent for a few moments, and when she finally spoke, the two men barely heard her. "I'm Padmé," she whispered, shivering in her thin garment.

    Qui-Gon gestured at the remnants of the protection bubble. "Did you do this by yourself, Padmé?"

    She nodded.

    Mace crouched down to her level. "How?"

    "Because it was—the monsters were coming, and I was scared, and they hit my mommy and knocked down my daddy, and then they took Sola and I ran." She scowled. "I think they broke our house."

    "Broke it?"

    "How?"

    She furrowed her brow, clearly trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. "I was running," she said thoughtfully, "and the monsters were chasing me. They took Sola, and I was scared. I had a big mad, too. I had a big mad, and it got bigger and bigger until it broke our house." She looked up, shocked. "I broke our house." Her lower lip trembled.
    Silently, Qui-Gon Jinn knelt and held open his arms. The young girl stepped into them, sniffling.

    With an arm propping up his elbow, Mace Windu stroked his chin. "How did you survive?"

    Again, Padmé's small brow furrowed in thought. "It was... my mad broke our house, and big rocks fell." She looked up fiercely. "They got the monsters." Slowly, her gaze fell to her lap. "They got my mommy and daddy too. And Sola. They got everybody but me." She paused. "They tried to get me, but I pushed."

    The two Jedi exchanged glances.

    "Padmé," Qui-Gon said carefully, turning her to meet his eyes, "can you show us how you pushed?"

    She worked her mouth noiselessly for a few moments, then nodded. Moving away from him, she headed towards a pile of rubble in the middle of what appeared to have once been the dining area. Screwing up her face, she stretched out her hands and strained against the haze-filled emptiness for several moments, but the rubble remained motionless.

    Panting, she shook her head. "I can't," she said sadly. "I need a big mad."

    Mace frowned. "Has this ever happened before?"

    "No." Padmé looked at her hands in wonder. "Today was the first day." Suddenly, her face crumpled, and her eyes welled up. "I got everybody," she sobbed. "It was me." Tears streaked down her face.

    "You should rest, little one," Qui-Gon said, gently drawing her back into his arms. "You need your strength."

    As if on cue, Padmé yawned hugely. Then she frowned, wiping the tears from her dust-smeared cheeks. "No. My mommy made me take a nap, and then the monsters came. I want to stay up."

    "Sleep," commanded Mace, and Padmé's eyes slipped closed.

    Qui-Gon Jinn glanced up at him. "Was that really necessary?"

    "I need to think."

    Nodding, Jinn tucked his legs beneath him, cradling the young girl close. "Well?"

    "This child..." Mace began, then stopped himself. "It's highly unusual. I don't think it's ever happened before."

    "What hasn't?"

    "This trauma seems to have triggered some kind of latent Force ability."

    Qui-Gon looked at her in pity, stroking the hair from her clammy forehead. "So young to have already brushed with the Dark Side."

    "It's dangerous," Mace said grimly. "We need to figure out what to do with her."

    Looking up again, Qui-Gon met his gaze evenly. "You speak as though we had multiple options. Clearly, we can't just leave her here."

    "Of course not."

    "What, then?"

    "We take her off-planet to a stable world. We put her in a care facility. She'll be safe there."

    Qui-Gon frowned. "Any ability she possesses, however latent, will pose a danger to her if left unhoned." He looked again at the sleeping figure. "Mace, if we don't train her, someone else will."

    Mace shrugged. "That's not up to us."

    Qui-Gon set his jaw. "We've found her. Doesn't that make her our responsibility? Look at her. How can you think of leaving her?"

    "I never did. I said we should take her somewhere safe."

    Qui-Gon fell into a stony silence.

    Sighing, Mace eased to the fragmented tile beneath his boots. "I know what you think: that I don't have a heart. It's not true. I see exactly what you see—a little girl, alone, afraid, trapped in a power she doesn't understand. I feel." He tapped his chest for emphasis. "But unlike you, I look beyond my feelings and consider the will of the Force. Where would we be if we picked up every child we found?" He placed a hand on his companion's shoulder. "We can't save everyone, Qui."

    "We can save her," Qui-Gon said firmly.

    Taking back his hand, Mace shook his head. It was really no use debating a matter when Qui-Gon got like this. Beneath a quiet exterior, the Jedi Knight was irretrievably stubborn, and once he'd set his mind on something, all the gales of Haruun Kal wouldn't sway it. Wearily, Mace massaged his temples. "Fine. We take her to Coruscant. Then what?"

    Qui-Gon fingered his beard thoughtfully, then tucked a strand of short brown hair behind his ear. "I would gladly train her myself. But I'm only allowed one Padawan at a time, and Obi-Wan's not yet fifteen. It will be some time before he's ready to take the Trials."

    Mace thought for a moment. "She can't be over four standard years. That would make her an Initiate. We can put her in the charge of Master Yoda."

    Qui-Gon nodded his agreement, then looked back down at the sleeping child, who was shifting restlessly. She gave a few groans, trembled, and then her wide brown eyes flew open. Peering into the faces of the two Jedi, she looked accusingly from one to the other.

    "Child," said Mace, not unkindly, "would you like to go to Coruscant?"

    She blinked. "What's... Coorsant?"

    Qui-Gon smiled. "It's where Jedi are made."

    She frowned. "What's a Jedi?"

    "Us," Mace said simply.

    Padmé considered. "Are there monsters there?"

    "Yes," Mace conceded. "But you don't have to be afraid of them."

    "We'll take care of you, little one."

    She hesitated for an instant, then smiled. "Okay."

    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·

    As the Jedi Master's thoughts wandered over the past two decades, he couldn't hold back his pride at what a competent young woman the precocious little girl had become. He shook his head sadly.

    Pretty funny, Qui-Gon. You were the one that didn't want to leave her, and I'm the one who stayed.

    Enough. He shook his head once more, dispelling the memories. And as the rosy hues of Coruscant's synthetic dawn streaked golden into the Council chamber, Mace Windu again reached through the Force for his Padawan. This time, he was pleased to find her calm and composed.

    /[ Padmé. ]/

    /[ Yes, Master? ]/

    /[ It's time. ]/



    *********************************************************

    Chapter 3: The Commander's Commission


    *********************************************************

    ·:· ·:· ·:·

    With waves of midmorning light glowing on their backs, twelve stern chairs hugged the seamless curve of the Council chamber. In them sat twelve Jedi Masters of varying ages, abilities, and homeworlds, each gazing at the couple before them with calm intensity. Countless specks of metallic shine hung motionless in the pensive air, as if the universe and time itself awaited the judgment of the Twelve. It was very quiet.

    Whenever you're ready, Masters, thought Padmé. Sometime in this century would be great.
    She was thoroughly ready for the day to end, though it had barely begun. She'd awoken in a puddle of tears with her head pounding and her heart a fist in her chest, and things hadn't improved from there. After spending a standard half-hour fretting over which of her few simple garments flattered her most—Why? she'd kept asking herself—she had finally settled upon a fitted cream tunic with matching trousers under a robe of faded brown. After quickly dressing and answering her master's call, she'd made for the spartan dining area, suddenly ravenous. The steaming cup of herbed tea had been all right, but the half-bowl of grainmeal had been a mistake. She'd barely made it to the 'fresher in time.

    Back in the Council chamber, Padmé mentally shook herself. Why do I always forget? I knew about the dream when I woke up. Wet pillow, aching head, and then vomit. It's always the same.

    As surreptitiously as possible, she pulled her robe a bit closer in an effort to hide the stained tunic beneath. There hadn't been time to change. For at least the dozenth time, she reminded herself that her appearance was highly irrelevant to the situation at hand. For at least the dozenth time, it didn't help.

    The young mechanic had dressed up, too, after a fashion. He wasn't exactly Senatorial, but he had starched his shirt, shined his boots, and combed his hair. Padmé again had to admit he looked handsome. But though she'd spent the greater portion of the morning dreading him being overly familiar, he surprised her by being strictly professional, almost drolly so. In fact, other than a brief bow of formal greeting, he studiously avoided looking at her.

    Padmé grimaced at the faintly sour taste of bile stubbornly clinging to her mouth. If not for it, she could have convinced herself she'd only imagined the dream. Naturally, she couldn't remember any of it now; only that she'd had it, and that it had been terrifying. She stifled a sigh, feeling fatigued and irritable. What were they waiting for?

    A soft clearing of the young man's throat startled her from her thoughts. From the corner of her left eye, she could just make out the slightest fidget. The Council's silent scrutiny was finally beginning to get to him, as it got to everyone, eventually. Still, the young man had lasted longer than most, and even now remained relatively composed. Each of the Jedi Masters nodded their acknowledgement in turn. The verbal portion of the interview would now commence.

    "Your name, young man?"

    The applicant started at the sudden question, but looked relieved to be invited to speak at last. "Commander Anakin Skywalker, Master Jedi."

    Glancing at Padmé, Ki-Adi-Mundi raised an eyebrow. "We were not informed of your rank… Commander."

    "I have none. The title is an honorary gesture."

    Another moment's pause, and Adi Gallia tipped her head to one side. "Then you must have powerful friends," she suggested, turning her hypnotic gaze upon him.

    Anakin bowed.

    "Yet you would spend your days toiling in the bowels of ailing machinery?" inquired Plo Koon.

    He shrugged. "Rankless titles don't generally keep the synth-lights on, Master Jedi."

    "Indeed," agreed Kit Fisto.

    "Quite," concurred Yarael Poof.

    Saesee Tinn gave a slow blink of his pale yellow eyes and said nothing. Favoring telepathy over the spoken word, the occasional subtle facial gesture was as far as he tended to go in the way of physical communication. Still, he appeared to have effectively transmitted his meaning, and Ki-Adi-Mundi nodded briefly at him before again fixing his gaze upon the candidate.

    "Are you familiar with the inner workings of the Delta-7 light interceptor, Commander Skywalker?"

    "I've never seen one before."

    The Cerean Master regarded him skeptically. "You have no experience whatever?"

    "None with this particular model, no," the young man admitted. Then he straighted his shoulders. "But I'm fully confident I can fix it. I can fix anything."

    'An honorary gesture'? Padmé thought in bewilderment. 'Fully confident'? Who is this man?

    While the majority of the room's occupants eyed the young man doubtfully, Kit Fisto's teeth gleamed. "Anything?"

    Pivoting to meet Kit's eyes, Anakin returned the grin. "Anything. I constructed a protocol droid at 7, custom-built a podracer at 8, and won the Boonta Eve with it at 9." He placed his hands in his pockets. "I've only improved since then."

    Kit's smile broadened. "Confident."

    Again, Anakin mirrored the expression. "Usually."

    "A not undesirable trait when kept in check," Depa Billaba acknowledged, her soft voice shifting Anakin's attention to the opposite end of the Chamber. "But you will likely find this task requires a greater finesse than your youngling projects, Commander Skywalker."

    The young man inclined his head. "Perhaps you'd wish a demonstration of my ability?"

    "That won't be necessary, Commander," replied Eeth Koth. "We are aware of your mechanical aptitude."

    "It is your character we now examine," said Shaak Ti.

    Anakin returned his hands to his sides and stood a bit straighter. "Have you reached a conclusion?"

    There was another general pause as the august body thought this over. When this second lengthy silence at last ended, it was Even Piell who broke it, vocalizing what the entire body most wished to know.

    "How, precisely, did you come to possess this... honorific, Commander Skywalker?"

    Anakin stiffened. "It was bestowed on me by his Excellency, the Supreme High Chancellor."

    "Why?" Mace asked bluntly.

    A shadow passed over the young man's face. "I was of some assistance to him a few years ago."

    "And assist us, you now can," Yoda put in smoothly. "Our thanks to you go, Commander Skywalker."

    For the first time in the entire proceedings, the young man allowed himself a glimpse of Padmé. "I assure you, Master Jedi, the pleasure is mine."

    It had been the briefest of glances, and the young man's tone had been utterly professional. Still, Mace Windu had seen it, and he hadn't liked it. Abruptly, he looked at his Padawan, but Padmé's face held nothing which warranted suspicion. Resignation. Perhaps boredom. But nothing overtly inappropriate.

    Nodding approvingly, Mace resettled himself in his council chair. There was nothing to worry about.

    .
    ·:·
    ·

    As they descended in a turbolift, Padmé found herself becoming increasingly annoyed. "What was that all about?" she demanded. "Where did you learn noblespeak? And what's this 'Commander' business? I thought you were a mechanic."

    Anakin grinned. "I am."

    "'You are,'" she echoed peevishly. "You are what? A Commander, or a mechanic?"

    The young man quirked a brow. "Aren't we full of questions today."

    Padmé frowned, then stabbed at the control panel. Two gleaming concave halves slid noiselessly open, and she stalked out, leaving the young man to follow her down an echoing corridor. "I just don't like being tricked. Deception is the way of the Dark Side."

    "I'm not a member of your Order," Anakin reminded her, easily matching her rapid strides. "But who said anything about 'deception'?"

    "You told me you were a mechanic!"

    "Did I tell you that?"

    Pausing before the Temple's vaulted main entrance, Padmé considered. Had the young man actually told her his profession?

    "No," she finally admitted, walking on and descending a slew of wide marble steps. "I inferred it. Why else would you be working on a broken droid in the middle of a grimy parts shop?"

    Directly before them, hovering above the emerald turf like an inky patch of liquid shadow, shone an opulent obsidian airspeeder. Anakin opened its door, folded himself in, and grinned. "Because it's my shop."

    And off he sped, leaving Padmé gaping.



    ***********************************

    Chapter 4: Duracrete Day


    ***********************************

    ·:· ·:· ·:· ·:·

    When the call came, they all protested. It was barely detectable, but it was still a protest. While most—though not all—would comply in the end, it would only be after a fair bit of grumbling. In the meantime, though little in stance or countenance gave them away, had the Dark Lord of the Sith been privy to their thoughts, he surely would have smirked at such insubordinations as, But we're busy!, Doesn't the Council understand?, and Why now? Even without such clairvoyance, he might have contented himself in speculating on which subtle obstinacies had given rise to the furrowed brows, cupped chins, and pale lekku plainly visible in the myriad starfighter transports scattered through the far reaches of space as the Jedi went about their missions.

    When the call came, one such transport had nearly arrived at its destination.

    .
    ·:·
    ·

    Aayla Secura furrowed her brow. Leaning forward, she reactivated the holotransmitter. A slim purple figure crackled into view, and the holotransmitter obediently replayed the message.

    "Greetings, fellow Jedi. By Council resolution, all Jedi starfighters will return to Coruscant for emergency repairs, effective immediately. I repeat, all Jedi starfighters will immediately return to Coruscant. May the Force be with you. Fly well."

    The hooded figure inclined its head, the image crackled out, and that was that.

    Aayla's frown deepened.

    "'Fresher's free," came a rich baritone, and a broad-shouldered man strode into the cockpit. Easing into the copilot's seat, he reached back to gather several coils of tightly matted hair, pivoted towards Aayla, and let the damp locks slip from his fingers. "What's got you looking like a krek under a boot? What do you have there?"

    For an answer, Aayla played the transmission for the third time. At its end, she glanced up quickly enough to spot a few telltale creases in the gold band tattooed beneath her companion's brown eyes before he smoothed them away with a blink.

    "Huh," said Quinlan Vos.

    Aayla was still frowning. "I do not understand, Master."

    Reaching up again, he calmly tied back his hair. "You can stop with the 'Master', Aayla. You've been a Knight for several months now."

    "Habit." She jerked her chin towards the space where the image had been. "What do we do?"

    Quinlan was suddenly very busy at the controls, his tunic pulling over the muscles of his back as he flipped levers and checked indicators. "You heard Mace, Aayla. We fly the 'fighters to Coruscant for emergency repairs." A pause. "'Immediately.'"

    Aayla drew a long, slow breath, inwardly calling upon the Force for serenity. "Now? In the middle of a mission?"

    "Apparently."

    The crease between Aayla's brows deepened still further. "But nothing is wrong with our starfighters, Master," she pointed out with admirable placidity. "We are already 'flying well.'"

    Quinlan slid into a crouch, reached beneath the console to tinker with a few hidden panels, and said nothing.

    "There is something else behind this," Aayla pursued.

    "Probably. But it's not our job to ask those questions."

    At this point, Aayla's mouth drew into something very near a pout. "Master, it has taken us months to locate our target, weeks to infiltrate his network, and days to conceal our starfighters on this junker. If we return to Coruscant, we may never find him again." Then her pale lekku brightened a bit. "Perhaps we might return after we have captured him?"

    The band of coils shook decisively, nearly brushing the floor. "Mace said 'now'." Another pause. "But this is a nice change. I never thought I'd have to remind you of our duty to obey the Council. It's usually the other way around."

    A barely audible huff. "Well. I am more like you than I thought."

    There was a muffled chuckle, and then Quinlan emerged from beneath the console, wiping his hands on his tunic as he returned to his seat. "I hope not."

    Aayla returned her attention to the empty holotransmitter. The fact that she didn't pick it up and hurl it across the cockpit was a credit to her training.

    Leaning over, Quinlan turned her chair to face him. "I know what this means to you, Aayla. I want that scum cleaned off your homeworld as badly as you do." He set his jaw. "But Ryloth will be here when we get back, and unfortunately, the spice lords will be, too. We'll handle them. Don't worry."

    Nodding stiffly, Aayla moved to turn her chair away. But Quinlan caught her by the hand, mid-motion, and peered into her hazel eyes. It was the searching, intense gaze of a master scrutinizing his pupil.

    "Okay?"

    The former Padawan took a deep breath. So be the will of the Force. "Yes, Master," Aayla Secura said aloud, and meant it.

    Quinlan nodded. "Okay." Tossing her hand back to her, he moved to power up the navigator. "Come on, kid. Let's go home."

    .
    ·:· ·:·
    ·



    "My lord, all of the Jedi starfighters have now been recalled to Coruscant."

    "Excellent. Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen."


    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·


    When the attack came, Anakin's first thought was that he should have known better. He knew where he lived. The characteristics of the district that had appealed to him as a newcomer to Coruscant—its distance from upper-level intrigues, its lack of pretention, its gruff anonymity—were the same traits that made the current circumstances laughably predictable. The price of solitude was the occasional 'situation', but Anakin usually managed to hear trouble coming and avoid it.

    It was the third night of the week, however, and as was their custom, the Coruscant Sanitation Droids were out in force. Filling the haze with fastidious whirrings, they dutifully scrubbed worn duracrete until it shone pewter in the flickering light of the few operational glowpanels. Such was the Galactic Capital's efficiency that even its underbelly benefited from the antiseptic zeal of its upper levels. In truth, the Capital would have been well pleased to scrub "that Twilighter filth" from the duracrete as well, but that was beyond the scope of the sani-droids. Indeed, the droids' noisy activity achieved the opposite effect, as unscrupulous individuals invariably made use of Duracrete Day to arrange their sordid affairs in plain sight of surveillance holocams, confident the din would drown their secrets.

    In short, the stage had been well-set for a catastrophe, but Anakin had been too preoccupied to notice, his mind filled with the events of the day and plans for the next—and with her, of course; more than he cared to admit.

    She was even lovelier than he'd first thought. If the task of her simple garments had been to mask her beauty, they had done a poor job of it that morning. Thick as it was, her tunic's rough folds couldn't entirely hide the comely form beneath them. Her sturdy boots hinted at slight calves and slim ankles, and the coarse fabric belted tightly around her slender waist hadn't helped matters. Furthermore, she'd put her hood back as the Masters entered the chamber, revealing what would have been a riot of tawny-brown curls, now constricted into a becoming series of intricately braided knots, each as tightly wound as their mistress appeared to be. A few austere-looking beads adorned the Jedi braid which brushed past her left shoulder, completing the effect.

    It'd been all Anakin could do not to stare at her outright.

    Now, per his arrangement with the Jedi Masters, he was due to report back to the Temple the following morning at 0530. Anakin didn't normally keep such early hours professionally, and he'd never heard of anyone who did. He concluded it was probably another test of character, and chuckled at the thought. The real test would be getting him to focus on his assignment rather than on the attractive young woman assigned to oversee it.

    Since a sheen had broken out on his forehead at the very thought of her, when a faint sense of unease pricked the back of his neck as he cut through a dim speeder lot and made for a narrow alleyway, he dismissed it as adrenaline.

    Relax, Skywalker, he told himself firmly. You're just there to do a job. Padawan Naberrie has nothing to do with it. You probably won't even see her.

    But the inner recesses of his mind whispered that he hoped he would.

    Shaking his head, he continued toward home, his boots making slight squelching sounds on the dewy shine of the freshly scrubbed duracrete. A few tendrils of antiseptic fog curled about him, and bright flecks of 'crete synthminerals glittered faintly beneath him in the weary light.

    He'd just settled his pack more comfortably on his shoulders when he heard a blaster clip slide into place behind him.




    ******************************

    Phew; all caught up. :) I apologize for the 'evil cliffie', but you won't have to wait long. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear what you think.
    Last edited by Fate, Dec 26, 2012
  10. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Hi, I will have to go back and finish the chapters once they're full length [face_laugh] but I've read enough to know this is awesome! I love the flipped over destinies of A/P =D= Your characterizations and scene descriptions are superb. @};- Like having Quinlan and Aayla as well. :cool: And evil cliffies ;) I'm kinda used to them I've read so many stories LOL [:D]

    Could you tag me when you update? (The @Jade_eyes ) thingy. Thanks!
  11. Alexis_Wingstar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2006
    star 4
    Have you posted this story elsewhere? I would love to read the full chapters!
  12. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    Thanks so much for the responses, Jade_eyes and Alexis_Wingstar!

    I'm... less than happy with what's happened to the story posts. o_O Oh, well; major move = major complications. Anyway, I've wracked my brains for the least irritating way to fix the problem, and have decided to edit my last post to include all of the chapters so far. It's worth it, since I have gone through and changed a word here and there over the past months. So keep an eye out; they should all be up in an hour or so.

    Jade_eyes: Arrgh. I was banking on whoever was interested in this story having been able to read the chapters before this unfortunate thing happened to them. But no worries; I'm implementing a 'fix' of my own, so they'll all be up soon. :)

    Thanks for the super comment! I hadn't realized how starved I was for reviews. The story's got to come out no matter what, but a good, meaty review every now and then definitely helps the process along. I was delighted to be able to include Quin and Aayla; he's one of my favorites. As soon as I'm able to edit titles again, I'm going to add "ensemble" to it, since there are definitely going to be a lot of canon characters showing up.


    Alexis_Wingstar: I... have posted it elsewhere... but I'm kind of in a bind, because while the place I posted it is great for story stats, I'm starving for good, solid feedback over there. And I'm worried if I direct everyone there, I may never get it. Absolutely NOT "holding the story hostage"; just hoping to hear what people think of the chapters. I'll post one every week until I run out of chapters, though. And again, I'm editing my last post to include all of them; just give me about an hour.

    Thanks so much for the support and kind words, you two. :)


    Edit: All the chapters have been added to post #59. @};-
    Last edited by Fate, Dec 26, 2012
  13. Alexis_Wingstar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2006
    star 4
    Thank you so much for putting the complete chapters into one post. I hate missing out on a good read! So, Padme is younger than Anakin in this AU, or am I confusled?

    I love how you made their circumstances different, but still have their characterizations intact. Oh, and Anakin is so much smoother with his come on's than in cannon. LOL
  14. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    You're very welcome! I know the mods probably have their hands full, so I tried to handle it myself.

    Anakin and Padmé are the same amount of years apart that they are in canon, but I've had them meet up 12 years after Anakin is freed instead of the 10 years in canon. So he's 22; she's 26. I really think the extra two years makes a difference in maturity, and Anakin looks a little older because he spent more time on Tatooine and for reasons that we'll see in the next few chapters. Padmé, on the other hand, has spent most of her life in the Jedi Temple. So she's had a more sheltered life and therefore comes across as younger than she is. It puts them on a more even plane, I think.

    The parts shop scene is a case in point. You'd hope a 22-year-old would be a bit smoother than a 9-year-old, or even a 19-year-old. ;)

    Thanks for letting me know what you think! I'm glad the characterizations are ringing true, so far. :cool:
    Last edited by Fate, Dec 26, 2012
  15. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    @Fate -- that's a tag LOL -- woot! All caught up and love the back stories for A/P =D= And eagerly awaiting how their destinies tangle and merge squeeliciously and otherwise. @};- [:D]
  16. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    @Jade_eyes *smacks forehead* Then I've been "tagging" for years without realizing it. I've got to get a grip on things; I'm being left behind by my generation.

    Still don't want a Twitter account, though. ;)

    But I'm glad you like the back stories. There's more of that coming up, but all to good purpose. (You've got to go back before you can go forward, right?)

    Anyway, more soon. :cool:
  17. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    Hi, all. I've decided I don't feel like waiting a whole week to post completed chapters. I will try for a few days between posts, so you have time to read them. Only two more written chapters before you're all caught up.

    I'll also give this "tagging" thing a go:

    @Ceillean, @Valairy Scot, @Luna_Nightshade, @CurtisZidaneZiraa, @Darth_Kiryan, @ViariSkywalker, @Geezerette50, @Arriss, @Jade_eyes, @Alexis_Wingstar

    I'm not sure that's exactly how it's done, but hopefully it'll work. And last but not least,

    @Venus_Star2-com I just wanted to thank you again for your very kind words about this fic. I think "unique" and "original" is all a writer can ask for, and since this is the first novel-length fic I'll have ever seen through to the end, feedback like that really encourages me to keep going. So, thank you. And re: Anakin having been trained, I guess it's safe to say he's picked up a few things here and there along the way. The main way is in this chapter... but you knew that already. [face_mischief]


    Now, without further ado:



    *********************************************************

    Chapter 5: Reminders


    *********************************************************

    Jakk ("Jack"); Favjak Trystian ("FAHV-jacques TRISS-tee-inn")


    ·:·:·

    "Hands up, pretty-boy," a husky voice rasped from the shadows, and Anakin instantly realized his error. He'd been a fool to take for granted the dark alley he passed through every evening, especially when all of the warning signs had been there. In these parts, a moment's distraction often meant death, but he'd been too absorbed in his thoughts to remember to stay alert.

    Inwardly kicking himself, he froze. "I don't want any trouble."

    Claws clicked on the 'crete behind him as his assailant stepped closer. "Good to know you speak Basic." A cool bit of metal niggled between his shoulders. "Hands up, or I'll blast them off."

    With a sigh, Anakin brought both palms up to the back of his neck. "Fine."

    He'd no sooner complied than he found himself being marched at blasterpoint to an even more secluded area of the dank alleyway. At last, the clicking stopped. "Turn around, pretty-boy," the creature growled, favoring Anakin's fingers with a puff of warm air in the process. "Slowly. I might let you live."

    Keeping his hands clasped behind his head, Anakin obeyed, gradually pivoted, and found himself looking down the blasterrifle barrel of a male Trandoshan in a yellow jumpsuit. "Yeah?" he drawled.

    The humanoid cocked his head to one side. "You've disrupted some very important business, pretty-boy." Two red eyes narrowed into glowing slits. "Got a name?"

    "Lars Windlighter," Anakin said smoothly.

    The Trandoshan gave a series of panting wheezes that Anakin eventually recognized as laughter. "Seems every planet I land, I meet a Windlighter."

    Anakin shrugged. "Big family."

    The Trandoshan wheezed a bit more. "Sure," he hissed, baring his teeth in what would probably have been a smirk in a near-human. As matters stood, the grimace appeared distinctly unfriendly. The blasterrifle remained where it hung. "What's in the pack, pretty-boy?"

    Anakin winked. "Dinner. You like Corellian?"

    The Trandoshan's tongue flicked impressively, making the hissing more pronounced. "I like cutting Corellians into s-s-steak when they cheat me at S-s-sabaac."

    "Gotcha. Good to know." Anakin's shoulders were beginning to burn. Leaving his hands where they were, he leaned against the worn durabrick.

    The Trandoshan's red eyes narrowed even further at this, and he flicked his tongue for several moments in silence. "Well, Windlighter," he said at last. "We don't like snoops. So we're gonna teach you a lesson. No charge."

    "We"? thought Anakin.

    "Hey, Jakk!" Here the captor managed to jerk his knobby head over one shoulder while keeping his eyes and blasterrifle trained on Anakin. "Help me scrub the 'crete with pretty-boy here. Looks like the sani-droids missed a spot."

    After a moment's pause, a tall, rail-thin figure stepped into the light of one of the alley's few functioning glowpanels. He was clad entirely in white and deathly pale, with sleek cheekbones and a prominent nose that appeared to have been broken at least twice. A shock of platinum hair contrasted vividly with a pair of deep-set, dark-brown eyes that peered from beneath hooded lids. He had a trim blond goatee, several scars, a pointed chin, and a very small, very pink mouth; so small and so pink, in fact, that the rich bass voice flowing from it seemed almost ludicrous.

    "Nice you finally asked me to the party," he was saying. Then he turned his incongruously dark gaze upon Anakin. "Lars Windlighter?"

    Anakin grunted.

    The new arrival narrowed his eyes and nodded slowly.

    The Trandoshan hefted his blasterrifle. "Enough talk. Time for Lars here to find out why pretty-boys and vibroblades don't mix."

    His companion gave a low chuckle. "Watch your mouth."

    A wheezing snort. "At least you got scars and a busted nose. Pretty-boy here is pathetic." The red eyes slanted sideways. "All that sweet, smooth skin, Jakk. Let's give him something to remember us by."

    In an impossibly quick motion, the man called Jakk pulled a vibroblade from a hidden panel in his tunic, flipped it through the cool air, and thumbed it on. But then he paused. Again, the dark eyes slid slowly over Anakin, and this time, the pale brows above them knitted. Finally, with a terse nod, he thumbed off his vibroblade.

    "Well?"

    Jakk's lips peeled back into a grin nearly as frightening as his companion's. "I called this meeting. So I'll rearrange this space waste." Turning to the Trandoshan, he jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "You load the rest of the spice. I'll meet you on Ryloth."

    The Trandoshan's tongue flicked uncertainly. "The boss said, 'No talkers.'"

    Jakk cracked his neck. "I'll make sure he don't talk."

    The red eyes seemed to glow brighter as the humanoid's gaze shifted from companion to captive. Then he holstered his blasterrifle with a shrug. "Fine. But this gets back to the Guild, we never had this conversation. In fact"—here the tongue flicked out again—"this-s-s gets back to the Guild, I don't even know your name."

    Jakk's grin was feral now. "Yeah. I'd do the same for you, Bossk."

    The creature called Bossk held up a bony green finger. "Five days, Jakk. I won't wait." Then, with another shrug, he clicked off into the shadows.

    The dark gaze flickered with something akin to mirth. "Turn around, Windlighter."

    With obvious reluctance, Anakin complied. "Look, uh, Jakk. I don't want any trouble. I live here, all right?"

    Jakk gave him a shove. "Shut up and keep walking."

    Once again, Anakin found himself being marched down the dim alleyway, this time by vibroblade. Every few meters, Jakk gave him a prod between the shoulders with the hilt of his weapon, and Anakin moved a bit faster, all the while listening as the echoing clicks of Bossk's claws grew fainter and fainter. By the time they had faded to silence, the two men had come to the end of the alleyway, which doubled as the entrance to another nearly-deserted speeder lot. His hands still behind his head, Anakin took a few more steps, then let the next of Jakk's nudges push him into a fall. Rolling forward, he slid out of his pack, twisted, pulled Jakk's long legs out from under him, and hammered the thin man in his side (which was surprisingly solid), knocking the blade from his hand. In a matter of seconds, the would-be captor lay prostrate on the wet duracrete, with Anakin expertly tossing his 'blade from one hand to the other.

    After a few stunned moments, Jakk propped himself up on his elbows, then gingerly got to his feet. "Easy, Skywalker," he said, raising both palms. "I don't want to fight."

    "Oh, no?" Anakin purred. Then he blinked. "Skywalker"?

    Jakk cracked his jaw, then winced. "Bossk was bad news. Thought I'd better get you away from him before we chit-chat."

    Anakin met the dark eyes in confusion. "Who are you?"

    The man called Jakk beamed. "Favjak Trystian," he rumbled, slapping his chest with both hands and immediately wincing again. Rubbing his rib cage, he nodded at the vibroblade in Anakin's grasp. "Nice trick."

    .
    ·:·
    ·

    A cantina in Mos Espa. A boy of fourteen sits alone in a booth, gazing intently at the stack of sabacc cards in front of him, studying the varying responses different hands produce in him and scanning the room for corresponding responses in others. From time to time, he takes a swig of his ryll beer. He's too young to have any, but a few credits here and there keep the right people quiet. For the dozenth time, he tosses the sun-bleached strands from his eyes, then pauses, mid-gesture, his blue eyes fixed on a nearby figure.

    The figure, a tall, sleepy-eyed man in his early twenties, lounges against an alcove bar with a stack of coins propped in his fingers, rapidly flipping the top coin beneath the others with amazing dexterity. Slick coils of shiny black hair perfectly complement his dark, deep-set eyes and full, red lips, and his skin is a honeyed brown just deep enough to make one wonder what sector he's from. With one foot propped behind him, he leans on the bar, scanning the crowd, wrinkling his nose at the attractive barmaid pretending not to eye him. After a few moments, sensing the boy's gaze upon him, he pauses, mid-coin-flip, and gives a nod of acknowledgement.

    The boy grins. "Nice trick."

    .
    ·:· ·:·
    ·

    Anakin's jaw dropped. "Favio?"

    With a hearty laugh, Favjak slapped him on the shoulder, then pulled him into a tight embrace. "It's Skywalker, in the flesh! What's it been—five years?"

    "Or something," Anakin agreed, returning the hug. Then he pulled back with a grin. "What happened to you? You look… I mean, I barely recognize you."

    Favjak made a face. "Cosmetic surgery. Had to do it. Not happy about it."

    Nodding, Anakin reached for his pack and began walking through the speeder lot again, this time keeping his senses keen. "You still gaming podraces?"

    "Nah, that's over now," Favjak said, falling into step beside him. "Too many fatalities. Bad for business."

    "Sebulba still playing 'fair'?"

    Favjak shook his head. "He booked it three solstices ago."

    "Lost?"

    Pausing mid-stride, he glanced at Anakin. "Dead, man. Vibroblade to the spine. You didn't hear?"

    Anakin shook his head. "I was gone by then," he said quietly. "Guess he finally crossed the wrong racer." He looked grimly at the vibroblade in his own hand. "I say he got off good after what he did to Kitster."

    Favjak grunted.

    By now, the two men had approached a series of stone steps leading to the landing of an immense starscraper stretching needle-like into the air as far as the eye could see.

    Anakin sank to the curb with a sigh. "I wish Kits hadn't entered that race. He never had a chance." Fiddling with the vibroblade, he worked his jaw, then swallowed. "I wish I could have stopped him."

    "Not your fault, Skywalker. You told him not to take that bet." Joining him on the curb, Favjak reached into another hidden panel of his garments. "Cheer up, Ani-man. Roll you some spice?"

    "Not my poison, Favio."

    "Suit yourself," Favjak replied, and Anakin handed him back his vibroblade. "Thanks." After pocketing the weapon, he sprinkled a pinch of glittering purple into a bit of opaque paper, deftly rolled the glit-stick, and lit it. "So. What are you doing on this rock, anyway? Not spice-dealing, I take it."

    Anakin's eyes narrowed slightly. "I told you, I live here." A pause. "You?"

    The hooded eyelids flicked over in Anakin's direction, then dropped back down. "I'm here on business. As you saw." He took another drag of spice, then licked his lower lip. "Also, friend asked me to visit her while I was in the system." The dark eyes glowed. "Close friend."

    Anakin chuckled. "You always were a krayt with the ladies, Favio."

    A puff of spice smoke and a red-lipped smile. "Said the pretty-boy to the pirate." With that, Favjak rose to his feet. "Anyway, this is my stop, too. Come up for a bit, Anakin. The lady won't mind. Let's have a round of Sabaac, for old time's sake."

    Anakin stiffened. "I don't play anymore."

    Favjak's eyes went wide. "Well, ship me to Socorro," he breathed. "What happened?"

    Anakin swallowed. "I lost."

    The dark gaze regarded him shrewdly for several moments, but when it was obvious that no further explanation was forthcoming, Favjak merely shrugged. "Well, that's a shame, Skywalker. You were one of the best."

    Anakin looked away. "What about you? Why are you in spice?"

    Favjak looked at him curiously. "For the credits, of course."

    "You made pretty good with Sabacc."

    "Too dicey. Spice is cold, hard cash. I can get ten thousand credits in a single run, if I live to claim them."

    "If you live," Anakin agreed. "Is it really worth it, Favio? You must be wanted on several worlds."

    "Twenty-eight."

    Anakin laughed. "That few?"

    Glancing at the back of his nearly translucent hand, Favjak grimaced. "I don't dye my skin 'cause I like the color."

    "You look good. But why not just get a real job?"

    "No skills."

    "You could settle down with one of your women."

    A snort. "That'd be a bigger gamble."

    Anakin looked away again. "Maybe."

    Sinking back to the curb, Favjak propped the knuckles of his right hand beneath his cheekbone and took another drag of spice. "I'm not like you, Ani-man. I don't have super powers. I'm just a simple man trying to make my way in the galaxy."

    "Famous last words, Favio."

    "That's why it's good to have friends in high places. As you know. I hear you got a friend in the highest place of all."

    Anakin looked at him sharply. "Don't believe everything you read on the Holonet."

    The stark pale face grew even graver. "Be careful, Anakin. Politicians, they're worse than crime lords. They turn on you, their world is your enemy."

    Anakin smiled tersely. "I'm fine."

    Favjak seemed about to reply, but appeared to think better of it. "Right," he conceded, stubbing out his spice. He'd just begun flipping the charred remains through his long fingers when a muted beep sounded from within yet another hidden panel of his garments. Reaching into it, he pulled out a slim comlink, his gaze flicking down to peer at it through heavy lashes. Then his lips quirked. "See?" He held out the comlink. "I'm a wanted man, Skywalker."

    Grinning, Anakin shook his head. "You'd better not keep her waiting."

    "Too true. These Twi'lek females…they get mad, and"—he let out a low whistle—"It ain't pretty." Favjak clapped him on the shoulder and rose to his feet. "I'll see you, Anakin. Be well."

    "Take care, Favio."

    As Favjak began walking up the steps, Anakin stood up as well, pulling on the straps of his pack. He'd just started making his way towards the south entrance of the starscraper when a booming laugh rang out behind him. He turned to see Favjak standing on the last step before the north landing, his white garments fluttering in the mist.

    "Hey, Ani-man!"

    "Yeah?"

    Through the haze, Anakin could just make out a wink. "You see any Windlighters, tell them to keep an eye out on Duracrete Day."

    Grinning, Anakin hoisted his pack a bit higher. "I'll do that. Stay pretty, Favio."

    "Right back atcha, kid."

    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·

    It took twenty standard minutes and two turbo-lifts to get to the flat, but in the three years Anakin had lived there, he'd never minded the trip. The nicest places in the starscraper were above the two-hundredth floor, and even if the flat had been shabbier, the view from its balcony would have been worth a much longer journey. From it, Anakin could drink in all of the beauty of Coruscant's upper levels with none of their stuffiness. He was sorry to be moving away. But Palpatine asked so little of him that when the Chancellor did occasionally make a formal request, Anakin felt duty-bound to honor it.

    "I just can't bear the thought of your being subjected to the mercies of ruffians and thugs, my boy," the older man had explained over a recent 'lunch' that was really more of a banquet.

    "But Chancellor," Anakin protested, "I like where I live."

    "Tut, tut," Palpatine had replied, topping up Anakin's tulip glass of Dantooine ale. "I'm quite sure it's lovely. But I'd rest a great deal easier if I knew you were out of harm's way."

    Anakin made a face around his mouthful of truffle tagliolini.

    "Don't you like it?"

    "It's delicious. And you were right; it's perfect with the ale. But I really don't like the idea of moving up here. All the politicians, the rich people, the holovid stars... it'd be horrible."

    Palpatine took a bite of summer melon, a small sip of cream sherry, and then held his glass up to the light for a moment, considering. "Anakin," he said at last, fingering its delicate stem. "You are becoming quite the snob. Were you aware of it?"

    .
    ·:· ·:· ·:· ·:·
    ·

    Chuckling at the memory, Anakin stepped out of the turbolift, pulling a battered grate to one side with a creak. In moments, he'd arrived at his flat, punched in the portal code, and entered his home. Opening the pack, he took out his dinner and set it aside. Next, he drew out the toolkit he'd hidden beneath it and examined its contents carefully. Satisfied, he returned the toolkit to his pack, placed it by the portal, then walked over to a synthleather loungeseat and sank into it. It had been a long day.

    "Let's have a round of Sabaac, for old time's sake."

    "How, precisely, did you come to possess this… honorific, Commander Skywalker?"

    Anakin gritted his teeth. He never wanted to think about it, but today, he'd had nothing but reminders all day long.

    "I'm not like you, Ani-man. I don't have super powers."

    He shook his head decisively. I'm not going to think about it. It's done. It was three years ago.
    Reaching into a nearby alcove, he groped sightlessly for a few moments before emerging with a worn and chipped datapad: his farewell present from Qui-Gon Jinn. Along with the datapad, the Jedi Knight had provided several holocrons, including a few containing basic information about the Jedi and the ways of the Force. Even as a boy, Anakin had realized that while Qui-Gon Jinn didn't always play by the rules, he had ignored them outright in this case. Anakin hadn't been able to become a Jedi, so Qui-Gon had left him Jedi holocrons. After twelve years, the Jedi's defiant act still made Anakin smile, though a lump filled his throat as well. After all this time, he still found himself wondering where Qui-Gon was and what he was doing. And for the very first time, this evening he also found himself wondering whether he should have left with the Jedi Knight, after all. Had he made the right choice?

    Swallowing hard, Anakin thumbed on the datapad.

    "Please state inquiry."

    Two brown eyes, narrowed in irritation.

    He smiled in spite of himself. "Padawan Naberrie."

    ""Pad-a-wan-Na-ber-rie' file not found," the recorder intoned with annoying cheerfulness. "Please state first letter of inquiry."

    "'P.'"

    "'P,'" the recorder recited obediently, then began rattling off at a rapid clip. "Podracing. A high-risk sport native to Tatooine, deadly to humans, with the notable exception of—"

    "'Padawan,'" Anakin cut in impatiently.

    In the ensuing pause, Anakin could almost hear a weary mechanical sigh. This particular entry had been called forth many, many times. "P," it continued at last. "Padawan. Second rank in the Jedi Order…"

    For several minutes, Anakin tried to focus on the familiar entry's lulling words, but it was really no use. With a sigh, he returned the datapad to its niche in the alcove, rose from the loungeseat, and began walking towards the expansive balcony opposite the apartment's entryway. Once there, he leaned heavily against the bronzium rail, running a hand through his hair, slowly filling his lungs with the cool night air.

    And then, like hovercabs on a well-worn airway, his thoughts slid back to the day he'd lost everything.



    ***

    More soon; I'd love to hear what you think. @};-
    Last edited by Fate, Dec 28, 2012
  18. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    My tag worked fine & wow, so many reminders and wonderings about choices made and not made. And then all that naturally leads to remembering what one wishes could be excised forever. :(
  19. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    @Jade_eyes

    *gapes* You are a fast reader. Thank you. :)
    As far as Anakin goes, while he's not really one to look back, it'll soon become evident why he can't help it in this instance. The things we wish we could forget...

    Thanks again for the extremely rapid reply; you're fabulous. :cool:
  20. Alexis_Wingstar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2006
    star 4
    Very intriguing. I can hardly wait for more!
  21. Aluna Skywalker Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 11, 2006
    I just found your story and I'm loving it so far :) Could I possibly get a PM when you update??
  22. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    @Alexis_Wingstar Thanks! I hope you like the next chapter. (I didn't make you wait too long, since I'm not such a fan of waiting myself. It's no fun sitting on already-written chapters. :cool: )

    @Aluna Skywalker
    Welcome! Thanks for checking it out, and I'm glad you like what you've read so far. Jade_eyes was good enough to give me a nudge into the wonderful world of 'tagging', so that's how I'll update whoever would like to have one. I think you're the first reader ever to get a chapter on demand within 30 minutes of asking for one. ;) (Probably not, but anyway.)


    All: So, again, I find myself updating earlier than intended. I want to move on with the story, and as much as I'd love to hear from everyone reading, I'm truly grateful that anyone's reading at all. I think you'll enjoy this next chapter. @};-

    @Ceillean, @Valairy Scot, @Luna_Nightshade, @CurtisZidaneZiraa, @Darth_Kiryan, @ViariSkywalker, @Geezerette50, @Arriss, @Jade_eyes

    (If anyone doesn't wish to be 'tagged' anymore, send me a PM letting me know, and I'll cut it out. :) Edit: Better yet, from here on out, I'll only tag those who've specifically asked for it, circa new boards. Right now, that's Jade_eyes, Alexis_Wingstar, and Aluna Skywalker.)


    *********************************************************

    Chapter 6: Out of Mos Espa


    *********************************************************

    ·:·:· ·:·


    The air was crisp, the skies were clear, and the suns had just begun to rise, their rays streaking faint pink across the vast, pale-blue emptiness. It was as far as Tatooine went in the way of a perfect morning. All too soon, the raucous cries of shopkeepers, off-world pilots, and members of less savory occupations would fill the planet's few cities and spaceports, but it was too early for that yet. Right now, it was the sort of morning that could almost lull a visitor into declaring Tatooine a quaint, peaceful sort of place. Naturally, such a visitor would be dispelled of that notion by double noon, but the illusion would have been a pleasant one while it lasted.

    It helped that the travelers were nearly there. They had begun heading west over an hour ago—the idea had been to arrive before it got too hot—and by the time the Jundland Wastes were behind them, Mos Espa seemed a distant memory. Now they could see a vast stretch of sandstone bluffs looming ahead, beyond which lay their destination. One of them could see the bluffs, rather: the pilot, a young man who looked to be about twenty. The other traveler sat quietly in the rear of the battered landspeeder, rough hands folded neatly in her lap. The gauzy red fabric wound several times about her eyes concealed a good deal, but left enough to reveal that the once-beautiful face beneath it remained appealing, if careworn. Hidden away were a pair of soft brown eyes which still held much of the loveliness stolen through the ravages of time. The fabric itself was beginning to fray, but the woman clung doggedly to it. It had been a present from her son, purchased with the first money he'd ever earned and been permitted to keep. Nothing would persuade her to discard it.

    All in all, the entire proceedings might easily have been a kidnapping—such things often happened on Tatooine—but the woman's carriage gave no hint of fear, and her lips wore an indulgent smile.

    "How much further, Anakin?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the roar of the landspeeder's engine.

    At this, the pilot craned his neck around anxiously. "No peeking, Mom," he called back. "You promised."

    The woman's smile deepened. "I'm not peeking."

    "Just a few klicks more, and we're there."

    "All right."

    She'd finally started to feel the familiar heat of the suns on the back of her neck when the air abruptly cooled. Had they passed into the shadows? The light hadn't altered. Shmi Skywalker frowned in concentration as she felt something she had often heard described but had never personally experienced: a gentle breeze.

    She tilted her head to one side uncertainly. "Anakin? May I look now?"

    "Not yet."

    A few moments more, and the 'speeder idled to a stop. Shmi felt it lurch to the right as the young man got out. She expected to hear him crunching sand underfoot, but instead she heard a gentle shushing sound, almost as if he were stepping through a slew of fabric pieces like the one she had about her eyes.

    She was on the point of speaking again when two hands, rougher than her own, grasped her wrists, and she nearly jerked away in shock. For the past few years, she'd vaguely noticed Anakin's shoulders broadening, his voice deepening, his erratic steps becoming a cool swagger. But this morning, the steady, calloused grip of his hands confirmed her suspicions. Now there could be no more pretending.

    He is all grown up, she thought sadly. Soon, he will leave me.

    The firm hands gave a tug. "Come on, Mom."

    Dismissing her thoughts, Shmi stepped carefully from the speeder and began taking slow steps forward, allowing Anakin to guide her. One thing was certain: the curious substance beneath her foot coverings was not sand. It didn't give enough to be sand, and it seemed solidly rooted in one place. But what the soft strips caressing her steps actually were remained a mystery, as did the source of the more pronounced shushing sound that could now be heard, faintly at first, but growing louder as the two continued their approach. To complete the riddle, a delicious smell hung in the air, at once familiar and impossible to place.

    Suddenly, she laughed. "Where are we, Anakin?"

    The young man laughed, too. "See for yourself." Gently, he drew the gauze from her eyes, and Shmi gasped.

    Before them stood an intricate gate of burnished copper with dark-green ivy twining through it. The gate headed up a rust-colored fence surrounding a enchanting courtyard and hung open, allowing an unobstructed view of the cozy-looking, cream-colored dwelling about twenty meters ahead. The building's portal and trim had been painted a cheeky shade of green that perfectly matched the foliage of—yes, that was an actual tree in the courtyard, off to the right, breezy and swaying. Its tiny leaves shimmered in the morning light, scattering brilliant flecks through the air which moved to the same rhythm as the blades of soft grass carpeting the ground fifty meters in every direction. At the fiftieth meter, a circular, pale-gold energy shield rose to a dome high above, completely enclosing the place. Beyond the shield lay the hostile environment of forbidding rock cliffs and sun-bleached dunes, but within it, one could easily imagine the desert no longer existed.

    "Oh, Anakin," Shmi said faintly. "It's lovely." Slowly, she brought her hands to her mouth.

    The young man reached for her left hand, planted a kiss on it, and tucked her arm into his. "I'd hoped you'd like it."

    As they began walking forward again, Shmi drank in the sights around her, marveling at the flowers, the moss, the delicate marble statues adorning the little courtyard. "For a holiday?" she suggested.

    Smiling, Anakin gripped her arm a bit more tightly. "No. For you."

    Shmi's free hand went to the base of her throat. "For me? I don't…" But then her voice faded away. In the space of a few moments, comprehension, shock, and sadness flickered over her face, but Anakin was too busy pointing things out to notice.

    "There's a ray shield generator behind the building," he was saying, "for keeping the temperature stable. And over here, you've got a humidifier hidden in one of the statues. There's even a dirt plot where you can garden; actually garden, Mom. But that's not the best part." Eagerly, he propelled her forward. "Wait until you see what's in the back. It's the most incredible—"

    A sudden clatter of metallic limbs interrupted him, and the green portal was flung open. All at once, a harried protocol droid stood before the two humans, alloyed arms akimbo. His casing had been buffed to a bright sheen, and now, with his indignant stance, C-3PO looked very grand indeed. "Well, I—!" he sputtered. "Master Ani, you did say you wouldn't arrive before 1000. And here it is, only half past 0800. I have done my best, but the noon meal isn't prepared yet, and I haven't finished polishing the brasses or starching the linens. There aren't even any fresh blossoms for the—"

    "It's all right, Threepio," Anakin said with a laugh. "I'm sure Mom won't mind a rumpled dining cloth just this once. You've done a great job. Unhitch my bike from the 'speeder and bring us something to drink, please. Come on," he said to Shmi, fairly dragging her up three tiled steps and into the dwelling.

    Once inside, Shmi's eyes widened at the lavish decor. The dwelling was comparatively small, but each room had been furnished with exquisite taste. Grandest of all was the living room in which she now found herself. From the glittering chandelier above her head to the glowing slabs of imported wood beneath her feet, everything about this place whispered of the sort of languid grace that can usually only accompany a great deal of money. The thick rugs adorning the flooring would have been ludicrous in Mos Espa, but they made perfect sense here, as the air was actually a bit cool. Outside, she could just make out a small, stone fountain that bubbled merrily, as if having a laugh at its extravagant misuse of the precious liquid most on Tatooine horded. Looking at the opulent surroundings, Shmi shivered, and not entirely from the breeze flowing through the curtained windows.

    Anakin had been pointing at the prodigal fountain, but at last, she had his full attention. "Mom?" he asked, laying a hand on her trembling forearm. "Are you all right?"

    She didn't answer.

    "Mom?" he insisted, giving her a little shake. "What's wrong? If there's anything you don't like about the place, anything at all..."

    Silently drawing her arm away, Shmi took a few steps into the room and turned to face him. "Anakin," she said quietly. "How have you paid for all of this?"

    The young man started, and then a stubborn look stole over his features. "I've never lied to you before, Mom, and I'm not going to start now. You know I'd never make enough from scrapping for something this nice."

    Slowly, she shook her head. "Oh, Anakin. How could you?"

    Clenching his jaw, Anakin looked away for a moment, then met her gaze squarely. "After I won the Boonta Eve, I promised you I'd never race again," he said, folding his arms. "And I haven't. But I'm not going to waste years of my life trying to make a living when I can make just as much in one night."

    Shmi held up her hands. "Please, Anakin. I don't want to hear any more."

    It stung as much as if she'd slapped him outright. Though his mother's brown eyes held only sadness, not a hint of reproach, Anakin felt a sudden urge to defend himself. "I don't even want to be here," he said bitterly. "You know I've never wanted to be here."

    Now pity crept into Shmi's gaze. "I knew that you could never be happy here," she said quietly. "But I had hoped one day you'd find peace."

    Anakin laughed. "Peace?" He began pacing the length of the room, the rugs nearly muffling his steps to silence. "How can I ever find peace in a place where people like Jabba have everything and people like us barely get by?" Pausing near a gilded mirror, he rounded on her angrily. "We could have left years ago, Mom. Watto freed you two years after he freed me, on the condition that we wouldn't leave for another three years. That was seven years ago. Why are we still here?"

    Shmi looked toward the billowing curtains at her right. "You know I can't leave, Anakin."

    Sighing, the young man ran a hand over his face. "Right. Cliegg."

    She looked at him earnestly. "He's good to me, Anakin. He's a good man."

    "I guess he's a good man," Anakin conceded. "But he hates me. He doesn't think I'm good enough for you."

    A smile quirked the corners of Shmi's mouth. "He has the very same complaint about you, Ani. He even uses the same words." Her smile faded. "I do hope you'll become friends in time, or at least come to tolerate one another."

    The young man folded his arms again. "But I want us to leave, Mom!" And Cliegg never will, he added silently.

    Shmi looked at her rough foot coverings, sunken in the plush carpet. Then, slowly, she sat on one of the upholstered cushions scattered throughout the room. "I'm sorry, love. But my place is here."

    Gritting his teeth, Anakin started to pace again and nearly crashed into C-3PO, who, having detached Anakin's speeder bike and ensured it was in good order, had immediately proceeded to the kitchen to prepare the requested beverages.

    "I beg your pardon, Master Ani," he said nervously. "I… trust this will suffice?"

    Anakin nodded over to a marble end table. "Thank you, Threepio. That's all for now."

    The protocol droid set a tray on the small, round surface with a rattle, then clanked from the room, muttering worriedly to himself.

    As soon as C-3PO had turned the corner, Anakin resumed the argument. "Fine," he said, flinging up his hands. "Stay here. But I want you out of Mos Espa. From now on, this is your new home."

    Shmi looked at him firmly. "Anakin, you know I don't approve of these chance games. How could I live in this place, knowing it came from Sabacc?"

    "But Mom, I did it for you! Taverns doesn't even miss it. He's got three others just like it."

    Again, Shmi was silent.

    "These people don't even realize what they have," Anakin went on, snatching a gold and fizzy drink from the tray C-3PO had brought in the room. "I'm sick of seeing you in that old hut. You deserve better." Gently, he handed the drink to his mother.

    She set it aside. "I don't want it, Anakin."

    He looked worried again. "Are you hungry? Threepio can—"

    "No, Ani."

    Frustrated, Anakin threw himself into a seat opposite Shmi's, but rose from it almost immediately. It was too soft. Everything about this place was too soft. He would never have chosen such a home for himself, but it wasn't for him; it was for his mother. And she hated it.

    He looked at her. "Why?"

    As always, Shmi understood what he'd left unspoken. "It is lovely, Anakin. But it isn't mine. I didn't work for it or earn it, and neither did you."

    "I won it. Like I won my freedom."

    "That was different, love," she replied softly. "Watto had no right to rob you of your freedom in the first place. You were just taking what had always been yours. But this?" She gestured at the lavish surroundings. "Anakin… it's wrong."

    "Why is it wrong, Mom? Taverns probably stole it from someone else."

    "So you would lower yourself to his level? To the level of a thief?"

    There was no satisfactory response to this question, so Anakin sidestepped it entirely. "I just want you to have the best. I want you to be comfortable. Happy."

    "I could never be happy here," Shmi said quietly. "I would have been happy to see you spend your whole life a slave, if it meant you kept the heart you had as a little boy. "

    At this, the young man gave a rueful grin. "I was no saint, Mom. I stole; I got in fights."

    "But you used to get so angry when people were treated unfairly. You hated tricksters and bullies."

    Anakin shrugged. "I still do."

    "Do you?" As the young man's gaze faltered, she went on. "I hate that game, Anakin. I hate how it's changing you; what it's making you become."

    After a lengthy pause, Anakin looked away. "I didn't make the rules, Mom. I'm just doing the best I can with what I have."

    Shmi was silent; this time, for a long while. When the young man finally found the courage to meet her gaze, he saw that though the brown eyes fixed on his face were dry, they were shimmering with a profound sorrow that went beyond tears.

    He was horrified. "Mom, don't." He could feel his cheeks burning. "I'm sorry. I really thought you'd like it."

    There was another long pause. When Shmi at last spoke again, she was very grave. "Anakin," she said, "you must not trample your gifts so."

    Inwardly, Anakin cringed. Outwardly, he ran a hand through his hair. "Look, Mom... I'd better go. I should have been at the shop an hour ago. Watto's always going on about firing me. He'll never do it, but I get tired of hearing,"—here he adopted the Toydarian's thick accent and sweeping gestures—"'Every day, I get ten boys begging to work for me! For free!'"

    Shmi smiled at the flawless impersonation in spite of herself. "I can't understand why you still work for that terrible person."

    Anakin shrugged again. "I like droids. And Watto pays me to play with them all day."

    "Not enough." She paused thoughtfully. "You could ask Watto for another pay increase, Anakin. That would be money you'd earned."

    He made a face. "I'd rather win it, Mom. I like Sabaac. It's a lot of fun when you can't lose. I mean, I do lose sometimes. But never a lot, and always on purpose."

    "How can it be sport to win from poor creatures too stupid to know any better?"

    Anakin rolled his eyes. "Believe me, Mom, if you had any idea what kind of low-life scum loses to me, you wouldn't give them any of your pity."

    Again came the fond, sad look that nearly broke his heart. Sometimes he wished she'd just beat him and get it over with.

    He checked his wrist chrono. "Got to go."

    "Anakin—"

    "Threepio can make you anything you want. We'll talk later, okay?" He was already moving toward the entrance.

    Shmi sighed. "All right, my love. Be safe."

    Pausing at the ornate door to shrug into a tasteful nerf-leather blazer—another pricy 'acquisition'—the young man grinned. "Mom. I'm practically invincible."

    A wink, a wave, and he was gone.
    Last edited by Fate, Dec 30, 2012
  23. Aluna Skywalker Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Feb 11, 2006
    I feel so powerful :p Great update, Anakin is sounding like his old self
  24. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Wow, Fate. Wow. I'm speechless with delight at the beauty of your imagery - frankly, I wouldn't mind living in a surroundings like that. And to know what motivated it blended with how he got it and then capped with Shmi's reaction =D= ... You've woven together a complexity of emotions and conflicts. Very realistic. :) Sad, too, because when your ends are tangled up in questionable means, your judgment and conscience get all skewed. [face_thinking]
  25. Fate Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 22, 2003
    star 3
    @Aluna Skywalker
    Thanks so much! I wouldn't count on a repeat of the "instant update" phenomenon any time soon, but I'm glad I was able to pull it off this time and that you enjoyed the chapter. ;) I'm also glad you see a difference between the Anakin of the "present" and the one in this flashback. Hope you enjoy the next chapter (it's not up yet, but should be sometime this week).

    @Jade_eyes
    Thank you for the very kind words. I'm sure we all have the same goal with description: to get the imagery out of our head and into our readers'. So I'm always delighted when I'm somewhat able to pull it off. :cool: I also really appreciate your picking up on everything simmering beneath the surface; everything going on with Anakin and Shmi that's left unsaid. I'm working on the next chapter now, but I don't plan to have it up here for at least another few days. (So, sorry for the 'false alarm' tag. ;) )

    @};-
    Jade_eyes likes this.
Moderators: Briannakin, mavjade