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Saga "Her Still, Small Voice", Anakin Skywalker & Mara Jade Short Story

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mira_Jade , Jun 22, 2017.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Title: "Her Still, Small Voice"
    Author: Mira_Jade

    Time Frame: 17 BBY, Song-verse
    Genre: Drama, Family
    Rating: PG
    Characters: Anakin Skywalker/Padmé Amidala, Mara Jade, Luke & Leia Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ensemble Cast

    Summary: The war may be over, but casualties from its violence still remain. In another time, another place, Anakin Skywalker meets Mara Jade for the first time.

    Notes: Because I cannot quite let this universe go - not yet. [face_mischief] To any new readers, this story is set in the world of "An Old Song Re-Sung", where, simply put, Anakin Skywalker made better life choices and thus circumvented the events of the OT . . . from a certain point of view, that is. Reading that story is not required to understand this one, but certainly would help!

    This will be three parts, I'm thinking, starting now . . . Enjoy!


    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. :)







    I

    It amazed Anakin Skywalker how things could change, yet remain so fundamentally the same.

    The new Jedi Temple on Ossus – well, the reclaimed old Jedi Temple on Ossus – felt much as the Temple on Coruscant ever had to his senses. It thrived as a wellspring for the light side of the Force; shimmering with the collective consciousness of thousands of Jedi, all compounded and compressed over hundreds of generations. In some ways, the cauldron of peace and serenity ran even deeper here, surrounded as they were by the verdant and the living, rather than the artificial mass of Coruscant's urban landscape. Anakin looked out of the wide transparasteel windows to see the thick, vibrant treetops of the native jungle surrounding them. There was nothing inorganic about Ossus in the slightest; instead, the living Force rejoiced over the cycle of nature and the devoted attention of so many of its children in one place, over the passing of so much time. Even those who still clung to the old ways and frowned at the new structure of the Jedi Order appreciated the wisdom behind their relocation to Ossus.

    Simply put: Anakin felt as if he could breathe in this new Temple, and many of his fellow Jedi felt the same. With the shadow of the Sith at last lifted to reveal the Dark Lord behind the recent-most of the galaxy's woes, there was a new brightness to the Force left behind in its place. Without the blinders that had so long obstructed their vision, they learned to see the Force anew; after so many years of war and uncertainty they were slowly relearning how to be Jedi, and exist with the Force in harmony again. It was a rewarding, illuminating journey of self, and if Anakin felt as much, he knew that other, more spiritually minded Jedi had to feel the same.

    Currently, rain fell over the jungle beyond. He could feel the wet, rich pulse of renewing life like a warm embrace, even from underneath the shelter of the main Temple structure. With the weather keeping them inside that afternoon, he sat in the youngling crèche and spun a circle of glowing orbs before his twin children. At just shy of three years of age, they could do little more with the Force than manipulate the orbs he already set in motion – altering their paths without controlling them outright. But even he was surprised when Luke grasped the idea behind the activity, and made one of the orbs dance in a corkscrewing motion, for just a moment. The orb changed colors, sparkling with blue and green before returning to its more familiar violet-gold, and Luke gasped in delight at his accomplishment. However, his giddy joy caused him to break his hold on the orb, and Anakin caught the sphere with his mind - but Luke was undeterred by his setback. He was eager to try again. Leia, never one to be outdone by her twin for long, was not far behind in her own determination to master the exercise, and Anakin fairly beamed – looking up at the other Jedi in the crèche and hoping to catch their eyes.

    “Did you see what Luke did?” Anakin asked, not for the first time that day. “Obi-Wan, did you see?”

    “Yes, Anakin,” Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice was a patient, droll sound from where he was helping a pink skinned Zeltron girl master the same exercise. She, Anakin thought with no small amount of pride, was a full year older than his twins, yet telekenisis was a knack she was only just recently learning to master.

    But, looking at Luke, something in the girl's cobalt coloured eyes brightened in understanding, and she waved her hand -

    - only to send her own orb dancing in a brilliant spiral of glittering light. “I did it too, Master Skywalker!” she grinned to catch his attention. “Did you see?”

    “I saw, Rhysa,” Anakin smiled at the Zeltron. “You are certainly growing with your powers.”

    The little girl fairly shimmered with pride, her confidence bolstered, and Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “It's like I'm not even here,” he commented on a mock whisper. Anakin could feel the familiar sensation of a Force-push, playfully tapping at his side. “When did you become such a natural with children?”

    “I don't know,” Anakin deadpanned, with a sly look from the corner of his eyes. “Having two of my own may have helped, I suspect.”

    Obi-Wan huffed, but it was true. Before Luke and Leia, Anakin was not one to help in the crèche unless specifically asked to by the crèche masters – better did he prefer filling in as a sparing partner for the advanced saber classes. But, since being introduced to fatherhood, he spent more and more time with the youngest of their initiates. He was now a familiar face to the children, and he enjoyed working with them as they took their first, stumbling steps into a larger world.

    The collective presence of the younglings was refreshing, was the simple truth of the matter. They looked on the Force with wide, awe-struck eyes, unafraid and eagerly seeking whatever they could find. Sheltered by their upbringing, a great many of them had no concept of the Dark; the Force simply was to them, and they existed within its current with true, innocent intentions.

    Even the background grief of the old ways - which, years ago, was the true reason Anakin shied from assisting in the crèche - where children mourned their parents and still longed for their homes was now, for the most part, missing. Children like Rhysa – like Luke and Leia – would never be far from their families for long. They would commute to and from home, for greater and greater periods of time as they grew. Rhysa's parents, Anakin knew, were even now staying in the compound that had been built for visiting family beyond the main Temple enclosure. She would be one of the first of a new generation of Jedi, with both her physical and spiritual family to turn to for guidance in the years to come.

    A great many still feared that they were setting themselves up for the Dark with such a practice, that they were dividing the loyalties of a future generation of Jedi Knights between the Order and their family and individual cultures. They believed that such an allowance taught the children selfishness and colored their sense of duty to both the Force and the Jedi Order as a whole. But Anakin could not believe that family, that truly living one's life, as the living Force rejoiced in, could be a practice for ill. The Dark would find its way for as long as the light too existed; when the time came, and a student had to be guided down a better path, they would deal with that then. Living in fear and restricting the freedom of all for the possibility of such an outcome for a few was unbalanced, and Anakin would argue that point with any who cared to hear him.

    But, in that moment, he simply took a deep breath and thanked the Force for the gift of being able to raise his own children in the ways of the Light. Luke and Leia were welcomed by the Order, rather than shunned for the . . . unorthodox path their parents had taken, and Anakin knew full well of his blessings. He understood how easily they could have slipped through his fingertips, had fate veered down even a slightly different path.

    (He knew, also, of another time, another place - where his side was empty of everything but the Dark, and his anger torment pain ate at the galaxy like a sickness; like a plague. But that was not his here and now - and, if he had anything to say about his path, it never would be.)

    For the morbid turn of his thoughts, Anakin closed his eyes to better feel the bright presences of his children. They glowed to his immaterial vision like fledgling stars, and their light washed over the scarred places in his psyche where, once, the Dark had tried to take hold. With his physical senses, he listened to the childish laughter of the younglings and the countermelody offered by the flowing water from the twinkling fountains. He could feel the rain as the drizzle turned to a steady downpour; thunder rumbled in the hills beyond the Temple valley, while lightning charged and cleaned the air. Feeling as a tree with deep roots, he reached out to feel the hum of peace within the Temple, running deeper than the stone and steel to saturate the very ground of the planet beneath their feet, until -

    - a note of unease cut through his preternatural awareness of his surroundings. Someone was frightened, he sensed - terrified, even - and the acidic, yellow emotion was a jolt in the Force. Fear simply did not exist on Ossus - not in such a raw, almost primitive state. He could all but taste it as a sour note on the back of his tongue. His eyes flew open, suddenly alert for the source of denial fear pain and reflexively shielding his children from it.

    Anakin looked around, and frowned to see that he was the only one in the room on edge. The twins were still happily practicing – and Obi-Wan's attention was still fixed on Rhysa. They had not felt what he had felt.

    It was Rhysa who first understood that something was not right. Sensitive to the emotions of others, thanks to her Zeltron heritage, she frowned and looked up, her blue eyes wide. Only then did Obi-Wan too tilt his head, and glance at Anakin in concern.

    “Anakin, what is it?” he asked. Anakin could feel a pulse of question flutter across their bond, but he was unsure how to answer his former Master.

    Rhysa looked as if she was on the verge of crying, and Anakin spared the energy to push a soothing wave of comfort her way – which immediately roused the attention of the twins. Luke and Leia looked up, their eyes going equally wide, and Anakin placed a gentle hand on each of their shoulders; he did not want to frighten them.

    After his moment of distraction, he tried to pinpoint the source of denial fear pain again, but found that he could not. Not yet. “I don't know,” Anakin answered after a long pause. He saw Obi-Wan's brow furrow. “But I feel a disturbance. I think that someone is - ”

    It was then that he felt a familiar presence enter the room, and a clamor from the younglings interrupted him. He looked up as the children closest to the entryway happily rose to greet the Chalactan Master of the Order and her Padawan as they walked in. Depa Billaba was still an awe-inspiring figure amongst the initiates, and a rare face amongst the crèche. Her arrival caused quite the delighted stir – one that the children would be speaking about for days to come.

    Yet, Anakin was more interested in her Padawan – a young man named Caleb Dume, who was quickly growing ready to take the trials for the rank of Jedi Knight himself. However, the self-sure, almost cocky teenager was very much not so confident as he struggled to hold a tiny, toddling girl in his arms. He held a human child, about Luke and Leia's age, but who seemed younger for the way she tried to curl into the smallest shape possible, as if to hide herself from the view of all. Her uncomfortable squirming put Caleb ill at ease, and Anakin felt the sense of denial fear pain deepen to a more animalistic note of panic. The child, though her face remained expressionless and she refused to utter a sound, was distressed - near to the point of terror. Feeling an echo of her pain, Anakin felt his heart drop.

    He was not the only one to feel her backlash of emotion, Anakin next understood. Obi-Wan frowned before sweeping a comforting hand over Rhysa's brow – hiding an encouraging brush of power in the touch. “Wait here with the twins, child, and see if you can show them what you've learned.”

    Rhysa looked pleased with the amount of trust placed in her, and Luke and Leia excitedly turned towards the older initiate, ready to master moving the glowing orbs of light before their father returned. Anakin looked them over one last time, and then rose to accompany Obi-Wan as they followed the new arrivals further back into the crèche. There were private healing rooms for the children here, adjacent to the main healing ward, and Anakin frowned at the implications of Master Billaba's choice.

    The small chamber was empty when they entered – the healer was not there yet. After a deeper probe, Anakin understood that he felt fear, and fear only from the child. She was in no physical pain; she felt a physical hunger, yes, bone deep and gnawing - uncomfortably reminding Anakin of some of his own lean times growing up on Tatooine - but so familiar to the girl to almost be commonplace. Anakin felt a ripple of indignation travel up and down his spine, and had to make fists of his hands to extinguish the emotion.

    “Master Billaba,” Obi-Wan announced their presence as they followed. “It's a surprise to see you here on Ossus. I thought you to be in the Mav'morut sector.”

    Depa's eyes, Anakin saw, were tired as she looked back on her fellow council-member. “We were, Master Kenobi – and our mission there remains incomplete. We will rejoin the 408th when we're through here.”

    Anakin felt concern ripple, wondering what could take a Jedi general – overseeing one of the last active spots of the war – away from her battalion. Ahead of them, he saw a flicker of green as the child Caleb carried peeked a glance at them over the youth's shoulder, before she ducked away again. The girl all but shivered in the eyes of the Force.

    “Knight Skywalker,” Depa greeted next. Her tone was stiff, and formal – uncomfortably reminding Anakin that not all in the Jedi Order approved of their new mandate . . . or his continued presence in the Temple, at that. “It's good to see you, as well.”

    “Master Billaba,” Anakin inclined his head in a gesture of respect, even as he fought the urge to frown. “It's a pleasure, as always.”

    He ignored Obi-Wan's pointed look of warning. He wasn't here to start a squabble, he wanted to protest – instead, he was truly concerned about the girl. The past few years, he'd finally matured past his need to nettle and provoke . . . for the most part, that was.

    “And who do we have here?” Obi-Wan asked as Caleb tried to set the child down on the exam table. The lighting was still on low, and the very air around them was restful – peaceful, healing even. Yet the child appeared to sense none of it. She squirmed again, clearly unhappy, but her small fingers refused to let Caleb go. He sighed, frustrated, but valiantly tried to summon his calm when he met his Master's raised brow.

    The child's eyes were green, Anakin was allowed to see when she found the courage to meet his gaze again - reminding him of the Ka'ak cats in Ossus' jungle. Her hair was matted and red – or, he suspected that it would be beneath the dirt and grime coating it. She had a pretty, freckled face, even as sallow and sunken as it was. No child should have to look as such, something deep within Anakin growled, not ever.

    “I do not know,” Depa finally answered, pursing her lips together. “She does not speak – though I believe she can. We do not know her name, but we can feel her presence in the Force. She is strong - very strong.”

    The girl did all but glow in the eyes of the Force – impressively so. Yet hers was not the untapped power of most children her age. Instead, the Force was built around her like a thorny hedge, scraping against her psyche and warily guarding against any who would try to touch her mind. Anakin briefly wondered if that was built to keep others out . . . or something else in. It was a queer thing for one so young to instinctively summon, and Anakin wondered at what path life had already lead her down. For such a mind to exist where, instead, the peace and naivety of childhood should have -

    - but he was distracted from his thoughts when Caleb sighed, again, and tried to coax the girl into a more comfortable position. He was trying to help, Anakin knew, but -

    “ - Caleb,” Anakin finally sighed outright, “you look like you're wrestling a womp rat. Here.” He reached out to fix the youth's hold, and was greeted with a wave of almost offended frustration in the Force before Caleb corrected himself, and accepted the assistance.

    “She won't let anyone else hold her,” Caleb huffed to say. “Not even Master Billaba. And I don't know what to - ”

    “ - it's easy. Just like this,” Anakin tucked away a look of fondness to instruct the teenager. Masters of the Light they were, but there were so many Jedi to whom the simple-most act of holding a child was foreign. How the Force had to laugh at them, at times.

    But something surprising happened as he reached to move the girls arms more securely around Caleb's neck. She held her arms out to him – him, and the wild bird's wing beating of her sense in the Force seemed to calm, ever so slightly. She still did not speak, but she whimpered – and the sound went straight to Anakin's heart.

    “Oh, sweetling,” he breathed, and, when Caleb exhaled in clear relief, he took the child from the Padawan. The girl was a full stone lighter than his own children; he could feel the bones of her elbows and could see the sharp shapes of her wrists. There was none of the baby softness of her age remaining. She tucked her face into his tunic, and Anakin felt as she sighed. Her hair was matted with months' worth of tangles as he passed a soothing hand over the back of her head.

    “What happened?” he asked, trying to keep the growl from his voice – not wanting to upset the girl any further. His anger was not for her. “What do you know about her?”

    A heartbeat passed, where Depa favored him with a slow, strange expression. But she pressed her mouth into a thin line and finally answered, “We found her on Orayaim.”

    Anakin felt his heart drop. Orayaim. Though Dutchess Satine's ideas of pacifism may have sounded revolutionary and moralistically sensible on Mandalore, in the heart of a territory fifteen-hundred systems wide, her stance had hurt her people further out on the edges of Mandalorian space – to the great loss of many. Those border worlds had been the first to fall to Separatist plunder, even before her death. Orayaim was one such world, Anakin knew for how closely Obi-Wan kept to the reports concerning his old friend, and all she had tried to build. Orayaim was a world, amongst many others, Satine had thought worth the cost, for refusing to budge from her principles.

    A red rice-like grain, rich in nutrients, grew on Orayaim – a valuable staple that was traded across the entirety of Mandalorian space. The planet was also known for its fantastic displays of lightning during the stormy seasons, Obi-Wan once related from his time passing through during his year guarding the dutchess. Recalling the pastoral scenes he had described, Anakin knew that the farming homesteads would have had only a few warriors who still wore armor - and those who did would have been ashamed of their heritage due to Satine's decrees. They would have been defenseless when the Separatists came in, looking to feed the flesh and blood members of their own army at the expense of those native to the planet.

    Anakin felt his mouth clench for the hollow, desolate look the child turned on him, and again wondered what she'd already seen in her time.

    “The few settlements on the planet are still in shambles; we do not know if her parents were of the original Mandalorian residents or the Separatist colonists who came to work the land when the original inhabitants were . . . forced out. She even,” Depa's voice lowered to say, “could belong to one of the . . . less savory sorts who have been making a hive of the planet since then.”

    He could feel the girl flinch; her eyelashes were wet as they blinked against the skin at the base of his neck she'd found to nestle into. She may have deferred speaking, but she was not deaf. He made a shushing noise, and held her closer.

    But anything further Depa could have said was halted when the healer arrived – an orange skinned Twi'lek male whom Anakin recognized as Aras Lak, one of Master Che's senior-most healers. Anakin approved of the choice, knowing that the girl would receive the best care possible under his watch. Even so . . . Aras was a healer of the mind, Anakin knew – and one of the Jedi's most gifted, at that. He had been the healer to work with Anakin after Palpatine's years of influence had finally been revealed, and Anakin deeply respected him for his skill. Depa must have sensed what he had sensed, and prepared accordingly.

    Aras gave a smile in greeting for seeing the child; even with the sharp points of his teeth, he managed to convey only warmth and invitation with the expression. Anakin could feel his presence in the Force like the warm glow of a hearth fire; his own edges, even, felt soothed by the healer's gentle power. The girl, Anakin noticed, still regarded the stranger with wary, mistrusting eyes. Her prickly depression in the Force darkened; he could feel her thorns. The yellow sense of her fear was touched with violet - as if she was preparing to defend herself, no matter her reserve.

    “Hello, little one,” the healer addressed the girl directly. Anakin could feel as he reached out to sooth, to nurture. The sensation made Anakin drowsy on his feet. “It's a pleasure to have you with us.”

    But the girl turned her head away; her small fingers anchored around Anakin's neck with a strength that should have been many years from her.

    Aras looked concerned for only a heartbeat as he turned his gaze to Master Billaba, and then to Obi-Wan. But he carefully tucked the expression away as he focused on the child again. “If we could have her sit, Anakin?” he waved a hand towards the exam table.

    “We tried that,” Caleb ruefully informed the healer. “Unless you want to force her, that's where she wants to be.”

    “As she wishes, so it will be,” Aras took the information in stride. “If you would like to take a seat with her then, Anakin?”

    Anakin complied with the healer's wishes, and sat down, trying to push his own sense of calm peace trust towards the girl. He only wants to make sure that you're okay, and help if you are not, sweetling, he spoke to where the child's mind seemingly reached out for his own. If the move was instinctual, he wanted to provide her what security he could. Can you let him do that?

    Aras started by running a scanner over her, checking her for physical harm. Eventually, he only reported what Anakin already suspected: dehydration and malnourishment. She was small for her age, and underdeveloped; painfully so.

    Yet, her mind . . .

    “If she will let me,” Aras started, “I next wish to see the scope of the damage done, so we may know how to help her.”

    Aras seemed to understand that Anakin could already reach her to some degree, and for him to say outright what Anakin himself had began to fear . . . damage done. But by who, and for what? And why, against a child so tenderly young?

    But those questions were doing nothing for his own sense of balance. Instead of dwelling on them, he reached out to the girl again. He's just going to touch your mind, just like I am doing. He will not hurt you; I will not let anything happen to you. Anakin was surprised by how easily the promise came . . . and even more surprised by how the girl seemed to sag against him, as if willing to let him take on the burden of her fight. Her pretty green eyes were half hidden behind heavy lids; he could feel her exhaustion in the Force.

    The healer had a warm, soothing presence, and he reached out to the child's mind with all of the gentleness of a sunrise touching a night-dark land. Even Anakin was lulled by the secondhand sensation, and he rocked the child back and forth, humming in the back of his throat as he would do when the twins were unable to sleep during the night. So rich was the sensation of peace warmth security that he was unprepared for when the haze around the child's mind darkened from a warning violet to a deep, tar-black shade of pitch, and the thorny hedge around her consciousness all but screamed in retaliation. The vine like barriers protested, rising up from deep onyx seeds and Aras was violently – and firmly – thrust from the child's mind.

    The Twi'lek stumbled back a physical step before catching himself. He held a hand up to his brow, clearly disoriented. Anakin could feel his wounded consciousness throb in the Force, and the girl in his arms was suddenly, painfully awake and on guard again. If she were any other child, Anakin suspected that she might have cried. Instead, she merely turned wide, panicked eyes on him. Her tiny arms tightened around his neck in a choke-hold.

    “What was that?” Obi-Wan was the one to ask the obvious as Aras collected himself. Anakin was grateful for his doing so - he himself could not take the breath from where he was trying to sooth the girl in his arms. He made shushing noises as he ran a comforting hand over her quivering little body, even as he tried to blanket all that was roused to defend in her mind with what he could of his own presence. There was no danger here, he tried to convince her, but his efforts were slow - laboriously so. He was not sure how much she was willing to trust and understand.

    “I . . . do not know,” Aras started slowly. He sounded winded, and out of breath. “I have not felt its like before. Not since . . .” and he made eye contact with Anakin for just a moment before setting his jaw and turning towards the two masters of the order again.

    Black seeds, Anakin knew he was thinking . . . scouring vines studded with long thorns . . . all planted over time and cultivated by a careful, diligent hand. But where Anakin had grown with the subtle manipulations of a Sith Lord for years without realizing it, this girl . . .

    “It couldn't be,” his words sounded dubious to his own ears, but he was troubled. If this was as Aras was suggesting . . .

    “But she's so young,” Obi-Wan echoed Anakin to add. “And we do not yet know where . . .” but his voice tapered of as he made eye contact with Anakin. Though their hunt for Palpatine had yet revealed nothing more than smoke and mist, neither had they found conclusive evidence of his death. The Sith Lord could be anywhere; who was to say where he was not?

    But what, then, would the likes of Palpatine want with this particular child? And why leave her for them to find? It did not make sense; they were simply jumping at shadows . . . again.

    Anakin clenched his jaw, and had to bite back his own frustration. It had no place in the here and now, especially not when he was still trying to get the shivering little girl to calm. Her small palms were sweaty about his neck; he could hear the quick sound of her breath from her mouth.

    “It is similar, but not exact,” Aras carefully concluded, addressing the rancor in the room outright. “This is much more . . . invasive than what was done to Knight Skywalker.”

    “Could it be something she has unconsciously done to herself?” Obi-Wan asked - the next logical answer to their riddle. “Would she be capable of building this to protect herself from . . . whatever it is she has lived through, or seen?”

    “Perhaps,” Aras finally admitted. “She has a raw, natural talent, but to build such dark barriers with such precision . . .” he sighed, and ran a hand back over his brow. His lekku twitched in displeasure; the tips flushed a dark sienna brown. “I will need to meet with her further, to discover the extent of the damage and reach a more definitive conclusion. But I cannot do that until the child herself is taken care of, and settled. Perhaps then, she may allow me to search further.”

    More would not be done that day, Anakin was grateful to understand – the poor child still clung to him, her small heart hammering and her fear a sour taste on the back of his tongue. She was slowly calming, but only just barely.

    “She's filthy, and she needs a change of clothes. Leia's things from last season should fit her,” Anakin finally decided after a moment's deliberation. “She seems to trust me so far. Would you mind if I tried - ”

    “ - no, please,” Aras inclined his head. “We will prepare a room for her in the meantime; you may bring her back to the crèche when she's ready.”

    Caleb, he noticed, looked relieved; Depa's look was steeped in pity. The cool expression she ever reserved for him softened in that moment, and she inclined her head in a respectful gesture. “I thank you, Knight Skywalker. She seems to have taken to you.”

    Anakin could only nod in acknowledgement - with his mind already spinning onwards to solve the puzzle that had been so unexpectedly dropped on their lap. Those black little seeds, Anakin thought again as he stood and walked from the healing chamber with Obi-Wan following close behind him . . . there was something going on here – something that was much, much more than it first seemed.

    The twins were standing and waiting for him when he reappeared, their eyes wide and curious for the girl he carried in his arms. The child spared a disinterested glance for Luke and Leia before turning her face back into the space of skin between his neck and shoulder; she made a small, pitiful sound as she tried to hide herself away. Anakin ran an absent hand over the back of her head, down over her hair, and felt his jaw hook in a square line.

    “Who's that, Papa?” Leia asked.

    “A girl, who needs our help,” Anakin replied, the only way he knew how.

    Leia accepted his response easily enough, while Luke tried to stand on the very tips of his toes to better see the girl he held. “What's her name?” Luke asked, his blue eyes bright.

    Anakin looked down, wondering if he would be able to feel the answer from the child's mind - but the girl simply buried herself further into his hold, and refused to look up again.

    Alright, that was fine. She was safe now, and they had all the time to find out the answers they needed.

    “Red,” he told his son on an impulse. “We're going to call her Red for now.”



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2018
  2. DARTH_MU

    DARTH_MU Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 9, 2005
    First?

    Findswoman got here first, but hopefully I'll be the first to reply.

    Very good. read. I look forward to future chapters.

    Heh. It looks like Palpatine escaped. Clone wars is still going, but are they battling the CIS or the republic?
     
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    OMG...more in this fantabulous 'verse of yours! Your writing is eloquent and gorgeous, which apparently is fandom-spanning. =D= =D= =D=
    Beautiful description of the contrast between the temple on Coruscant and that on Ossus & how Anakin and the others revel in the differences. Love the details of the training exercise and the banter between Obi-Wan & Anakin.
    Wow, "Red's" origins and plight are worrying and it is intriguing that she instinctively clings to Anakin. @};- He is a wonderful father and instructor of younglings. :) I love your description of the "thorny hedge" and it reminds me of Jyn Erso's "cave". [face_thinking] That is definitely part of the puzzle, how and why it originated.
    Aras is a wonderful mind-healer. [face_love] I have taken to him already. :D
     
  4. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Very intriguing start to another fantastic addition to your Old Song Re-sung universe. I had been curious about where Mara might eventually fit in, and you integrate her in a way that is true to both this AU and to her established lore. Here too she’s still an “Emperor’s Hand” of sorts in that Palpatine has obviously wreaked some kind of horrible, near-irreversible mental damage upon her (which of course means that he still is at large, somewhere, somehow, after all); she’s also an orphan, as in the official lore, but it’s a wonderful touch that you gave her Mandalorian origins (knowing the special place that part of the GFFA has in your heart—and it could also make for some tension later, given that the Jedi and Mandalorians are longtime adversaries).

    Those little black seeds in her psyche seem familiar somehow; I just looked back at Old Song Re-sung to see if they were there, and there is indeed a mention of “a thousand little tender seeds” that Anakin perceives in his mind during one of those moments when he becomes aware of [hl=black]the darker self that might have been[/hl]. Similar sort of thing, perhaps… I’ll keep an eye out. I am guessing that the fact that she bonds so immediately and intensely with Anakin has to do with the fact that she maybe can sense a similar dark ulteriority—the one that [hl=black]was at the heart of Old Song Re-Sung[/hl]—within him, too. I could see her eventually leading Anakin to some realizations in that regard.

    I have to say, too, how much I love that Depa Billaba is the Grand Master of the order here, and that the child whom we’ll eventually know as Mara is first brought in by a certain padawan by the name of Caleb Dume! :kanan: A very pleasant surprise indeed to see him here in this ’verse, and I am curious as to what role he will play as these stories goes on. Though as the first person Mara connected with, he’s already played an important one. I’ll also of course be curious to see where the unspoken disagreements between Depa and Anakin might lead within the context of this AU.

    Very curious to see where this beautifully written piece will go—what impression little “Red” will make on Luke and Leia, and especially how her bond with Anakin will develop. Always wonderful to read your work! =D=
     
  5. DARTH_MU

    DARTH_MU Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 9, 2005
    Please update soon.
     
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  6. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    This is fascinating! I love this new universe you've created, where Anakin makes the mature, thoughtful (albeit painful) decision to accept Padme's death and turn his love toward raising his children instead of turning to hate and destruction. He has created a new path for himself, one in which he finally gets it - that a Jedi craves not adventure - a true Jedi embraces the light and warmth and serves others before himself.

    He is uniquely suited to take care of little Red. He knows how toddlers and young children act and what they need, since he has his own kids to care for. Leia and Luke, in turn, learn from him how to care for others. Red senses this, I think, and clings (quite literally) to him. I wonder if she also senses that Anakin has also been the bearer of those dark seeds implanted into her psyche.

    I like your secondady characters very much too. They are clearly developed and they are interesting on their own. The little Zeltron girl, Rhysa, is such a refreshing change from the often stereotyped Zeltron who is only interested in partying and portrayed as not very smart, but here Rhysa's Zeltron empathic skills set her apart and give her a sensitivity that even Luke and Leia miss. The healer, Aras Lak, is kind and skilled in his craft. And again, a nice play against type by having a male Twi'lik who isn't a bit of a jerk. Of course, the secret star here is Caleb. He's a little too young to be honing his SpaceDad skills here, but you can see the beginnings of the compassionate, loving man he will grow into.

    Red's heritage is cloudy. Maybe Mandalorian, maybe from the settlers (occupiers), maybe something altogether different, but even with the damage that her world has been through, her injuries far exceed what this might have predicted. She was specifically targeted to be used in some evil way. I wonder why, and I wonder if she had been alone. Are there other children like her, planted throughout the galaxy, like little timebombs set to go off? I wouldn't put it past that Sheevster.

    Great story and I hope you update soon.
     
  7. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Alright, folks! Here we are with some belated replies before we get this story going again. [face_dancing]


    Aw, thanks! I wish that I could claim being so creative - but this story is just a continuation of "An Old Song Re-sung", which means that Padmé is alive and well - actually, you're about to hear from her POV. But Anakin has definitely come a long way as a character, that's for sure, and he's going to grow even more . . .

    You hit it right on the head there! We are definitely going to get into the similarities between Anakin and Mara as this goes on.

    I am going to work in as many canon characters as I can, just to give a glimpse of where they are in this new world. I love that you enjoyed seeing Caleb here - eventually, I know where I want the entire Rebels crew to be, and I wonder if my writing arms will stretch that long . . . [face_thinking] And it's been too long since I crafted SW OCs, so I'm glad you like Rhysa and Aras. We'll definitely be seeing more of them. :D

    I just remember that arch in TCW were Palpatine was collecting Force sensitive children. Then, I thought it was for his Hand project - or something of the like of developing Sith assassins or the Inquisitors. Either way, he's a sheevy sheevster who's up to his eyeballs in no good again. I look forward to shedding some light on the mystery . . . eventually. [face_mischief]

    As always, I thank you so much for reading! :D [:D]


    Having her maybe have Mandalorian roots is a totally self-indulgent fan fantasy, but, as the keeper of the pen, I couldn't resist. So I'm glad you enjoyed my bit of fanon! :p Once again, it's so interesting writing in a mirror world of what we already know and love - so many things have changed, but others stay the same. [face_thinking]

    So many spot on insights! Yes, she definitely sees a shadow of what Palpatine inflicted on her in Anakin, and she's instinctively drawn to him. Anything more than that I'll be quiet on for now, but that's where the foundation of their bond is set. It's interesting, here, to have Palpatine being the thing that brings Anakin and Mara together, while, in the known lore, it's the thing that drives a wedge between them. There are so many possible ways to go from here . . .

    Oh, there are definitely a few Jedi who do not agree with the directions the Order is taking - and it will definitely be a reason for friction in the time to come. And I couldn't resist adding Caleb! As I was saying in my reply to divapilot, I eventually know how all of the Rebels cast interacts in this 'verse - but I need longer writing arms than I currently possess to jump that deeply into this 'verse. But, you never know . . . [face_mischief]

    And, as always, I thank you for your detailed thoughts! I am grateful to have you along for the ride once more! [face_love][:D]


    Aw, you always know just what to say. Thank-you, my friend! :D [face_blushes] [:D]

    I love, love, love writing this version of Anakin - so I'm thrilled to know that he resonates with you so! Especially with poor Mara - her hedge is just like those seeds that Anakin himself fought - so there's definitely some common-ground for them to instinctively build on. The rest is plain old human compassion and decency. [face_love] I look forward to chipping away at the puzzle as time goes on. [face_mischief]

    At first I just needed a character to fill a role, and then he grew as I was writing! I've quite taken to him myself, and glad you have as well! :D

    As always, thanks so much for reading! [:D]


    Thanks for the enthusiasm, MU! I'm glad that you're enjoying this. :D

    It's just the scattered end of the Clone Wars - so, yes, the Separatists. I have to imagine that it takes more than a hand-wave to wrap up a galaxy spanning conflict, but they're almost there now. [face_thinking]

    And we're on to more in just a few minutes . . . Thanks for reading! :) [:D]



    ~MJ@};-
     
  8. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Author's Note: Well, that was much longer between updates than I ever want to go again. But . . . I had a plot bunny hit me, and, as such, this is now going to be a longer story than three parts. And, to expand this verse even more, the plot is going to require that we see from more than Anakin's POV . . . my muse spoke, and now, here we are. I hope that you enjoy, and, as ever, I thank you guys for sticking with me. :)

    Enjoy! [:D]






    II

    Peace talks at the summit on Ayvorn were proceeding as well as they ever did: long, and slow.

    But, as Special Adviser to the office of the Chancellor, and Supreme Chancellor Bail Organa's official spokesman at the diplomatic proceedings, it was to Padmé Amidala Skywalker to listen with all patience to anything and everything the planetary representatives of the former Separatist states wished to speak of. They were close, so close, to agreeing on terms for an officially ratified peace treaty, and she would not spoil their efforts with her own impatience to see a long-overdue resolution to their conflict.

    . . . even if they had been talking for years now.

    No matter that the war was over in everything but name only, there were still scattered pockets of active resistance going on, and a handful of planets had yet to send their representatives to Coruscant to rejoin the galactic fold of the Republic Senate. Though she smiled on the outside and gracefully sat through the same tired reiteration of old grievances and still seeping wounds, she was all too happy to leave that day's current round of political bolo-ball with Mon Mothma and Riyo Chuchi in order to take a walk across the convention grounds and stretch her legs. The day was bright and beautiful, and Ayvorn's capitol was temperately cool and soothingly misty. The landscape was carpeted by tall, spindling silver-blue evergreen trees, and delicate ribbons of cascades ran over the white rock of the mountainside the capitol city of Ay'v was built into. The balance of the natural alongside the inorganic and man-made was something her Nabooian heart appreciated, and her settings should have held her full attention. Padmé wished, however, that she was in a better frame of mind to enjoy the scenery; she was too anxious to put the Secession Crisis behind them in its entirety, and eager to focus her attention on reforming the Republic itself. Her efforts seeing to the rehousing of the billions of war refugees and the great struggle of the Jedi/GAR Reconstruction Act were only the tip of the iceberg; she could only do so much with her attention divided as it was.

    And, with her attention about to be divided again . . .

    Unwittingly, Padmé winced at the thought, and her right hand instinctively rose to cover her abdomen – still flat to the unknowing eye, but housing a spark of new life within. Although it was too early in her pregnancy for morning sickness, even the anticipation of the days to come seemingly had her stomach rolling. Or, perhaps, it was just nerves of another sort that had her -

    “ - you're burning like a sun in the Force,” was her companion's insight after correctly reading her expression. “You won't have to worry about how to tell Skyguy then; he'll know with a glance.”

    “I don't know what you're talking about, Ahsoka,” Padmé turned her nose up, even so. “That was just a bit of . . . pre-morning sickness. Nothing more.”

    A heartbeat passed. “Of course,” Ahsoka's voice was wry. “Forgive my misunderstanding the intricacies of Human biology. I'll remember that for the future.”

    Years of developing, and holding, a mask of polite neutrality when she felt otherwise kept Padmé from making a face more befitting Leia than herself. Ahsoka had spent too long with her husband – and Obi-Wan too; Padmé would not give her the reaction she was looking for.

    But, for all her teasing, Ahsoka did walk close enough that their shoulders almost brushed. She didn't have to glance over to know that the Togruta woman was concerned, truly so, for both her former Master and her friend - and Padmé did appreciate the deep well of affection that concern stemmed from. With their peace summit taking place not far from one of the last hotspots of action on the edge of Mandalorian space, it had been decided without deliberation that the twins, and Anakin with them, would not accompany her. Nonetheless, Anakin had little liked the idea of her traveling without protection, and so Ahsoka had taken a squad of men to support her while leaving the rest of the 501st underneath Rex's command alongside the 408th in the Mav'morut sector. Hearing the familiar clip-clap of the white armored troopers marching in time with each other at her back was both a comfort to Padmé as much as it was a reminder of everything she still wanted to accomplish on the home-front. They were wasting time drawing out the war, especially when, at the core, so much of what the noble-hearted amongst the Separatists desired was what she too wished for the Republic. Changes were being made every day, on every front. The Confederate worlds could do more from the inside, rejoining the galactic fold and fighting for that which should have have been assured and self-evident for every citizen, then they ever could apart.

    But she was working herself up again, and that, Padmé knew from her last pregnancy, was something that was decidedly not good for a Force-sensitive child . . . which she knew, oh she already knew this one to be.

    I'm okay, she instinctively assured the little, undeveloped consciousness she carried inside of her, your mommy's just worrying too much. She stroked over the fabric of her gown again, and imagined that her child – her son, she instinctively knew, could feel her doing so. I just want to give you your best chance for happiness in this galaxy. I want the Republic to be everything it can be for you . . . for your brother and sister, too.

    Padmé risked peeking a glance from the corner of her eyes, and saw that Ahsoka was still watching her, her azure eyes knowing, and she tilted her nose up again. “I'll tell him, don't worry,” she assured in a low voice, not wanting to share their conversation with the troopers at her back. On relaxed duty like this, she'd made a habit of asking the men to remove their helmets when they weren't needed, and Kix had already betrayed himself more than once with his expressions when he was used to them being hidden. The medic had been the one to confirm Ahsoka's suspicions with his more hands on experience with human biology, and the soldiers were already thinking up their own nick-names for their general's (which Anakin would always be) child. Snippets of their conversation drifted up to Padmé, cutting through the tension building in her own heart. “I just have to figure out how to tell him.”

    Ahsoka's white brow markings furrowed, clearly perplexed. She tilted her crest of montrals as if to hear, and thus understand, her better. “Why wouldn't Anakin want this?” she asked, equally as quiet. “He loves being a father.”

    Yes, Padmé agreed without a doubt: Anakin had truly embraced fatherhood, in every way. And yet, being a father was also something that terrified him, the possibility of failing his children was oftentimes a thought enough to leave him breathless. She knew about his dreams, the visions he saw at night. He saw so many fractured futures, and the implications of those he confided in her were enough to unsettle even she herself, at times. He worried that he was cheating fate with the happiness he'd managed to steal for himself and his family, and he'd already suggested, more so than said outright, that another child would be tempting fate to fulfill the visions he saw. He felt – hoped, at least – that he was setting Luke and Leia on the right path, but to add another variable to the equation?

    He was hesitant to do so, and she'd yet been unable to change his mind.

    Before this, Padmé had hoped to slowly talk Anakin into the idea of having another child, after the Secession Crisis was wholly put behind them, but this pregnancy, like the last, was as unplanned as it was hard to explain. She'd been as careful then as she had when the twins were conceived, and yet, she was slowly coming to realize, the Force would have what the Force wanted. She was not a Jedi, yet she trusted the Force and its ways - even with what she couldn't fully understand. She only hoped that, in time, her husband would as well.

    “Yes, he does,” Padmé finally agreed, a sad affection in her voice. “But you know Anakin: his greatest loves are his greatest fears.” She shrugged her shoulders, suddenly feeling inexplicably tired – which she would entirely blame on biology and being so far away from home, rather than any fatigue of the heart. “I'll tell him; I just have to figure out how.”

    Ahsoka's expression softened, and she inclined her head. “I understand,” was her simple reply. Padmé felt the familiar brush of a Jedi's Force-nudge, supporting her when she would have thought herself strongly standing on her own two feet before. “Only,” she then allowed a thread of humor to touch her voice in a clear attempt to lighten the mood, “just tell him before these guys have a chance to spoil the surprise,” she jabbed a thumb back at the men and allowed her stride to slow a step.

    “Alright,” Ahsoka pitched her voice as a challenge, clearly inviting the clones to join their conversation, “who's the bright one suggesting Crawler for a name?”

    “Crawler is a perfectly acceptable name,” came a voice from the back of the six-man formation – a clone with a thick black band tattooed over his bald scalp and bisecting his eye down through to the line of his jaw and neck. Rook, Padmé had heard his brothers call him; one of the last full-fledged soldiers produced by Kamino's war machine. “It's a baby . . . you know, it crawls.”

    Ahsoka rolled her eyes and gave a 'see' gesture to Padmé - but there was fondness in her expression, and her lekku rippled with amusement. She wouldn't insult the trooper by laughing outright, however.

    Kix, unfortunately, did not have his commander's scruples. “It's a baby, Rook.” As a veteran of Torrent Company, and one of the clones who personally knew Luke and Leia Skywalker, he spoke with exaggerated authority on the matter. “It's not going to crawl forever. It's going to grow up eventually.”

    Jesse chuckled outright at that, and the younger clone scowled outright at his seniors. “Oh ha ha – laugh all you want, but you like Rover as a name!”

    “Rover,” Jesse responded sagely, steepling his gauntleted fingers together, “is entirely different than Crawler.”

    “Again,” Kix turned on Jesse, an exaggerated note of long-suffering patience inflecting his voice, “it's not going to crawl forever – that's a name you'd give a pet! You should know better, vod; Rook's just a shiny.”

    “But it's a name you'd give a very cute pet,” Jesse insisted, as if his logic was too obvious to be anything other than self-evident. There was such an earnestness in his voice that Padmé couldn't help but smile. “Pets are cute; babies are cute. Well . . . the twins are, at least. Especially our Alor'ika.”

    There was a rumble of approval for that; not one man disagreed. Leia had quickly earned the nickname of little chief, and was as much a mascot for the 501st as she was quickly unsettling the commanders' scope of power. If Leia simply blinked, the men would jump on the spot to see her whims catered to - it was a potentially dangerous amount of power her daughter wielded.

    Kix rolled his eyes and muttered something along the lines of “if this is what Rex has to put up with then he can keep his command,” prompting Jesse to scowl in retaliation. “Alright then, hotshot," Jesse challenged, "how about you tell Lady Skywalker what you'd like to call her baby.”

    Kix, ignoring the biting sarcasm, needed no further invitation. “Well, I think we should just call him Kix – respectively, ma'am.”

    At the unexpected answer, Padmé laughed outright. The short, happy burst of sound had the clones looking up, clearly pleased that they had been able to lift her mood, and for the expressions they traded with each other she found her smile widening; she could not let it go.

    “I'll have to see what Anakin thinks, Kix, but we'll keep your suggestion in mind.” She couldn't bring herself to deny him outright, and the grin she received in reply was blinding.

    “You hear that?” Kix puffed up as he turned to his brothers to brag. “She'll consider it.”

    “It's at least going to have to be a part of his middle name now,” Ahsoka pointed out, aside to her in an undertone. She gave a whispering, amused sort of trill. “You'll never hear the end of it otherwise.”

    “Let me worry about telling the baby's father about his existence, first,” was Padmé's diplomatic reply – and, for the first, she didn't speak with stones in her mouth for saying so, “and then we'll see how many of the men we can fit into his name.”

    Ahsoka nodded in approval, before her lekku twitched and she grinned. “So . . . on the off chance we're reading this all wrong, and your son is really a daughter, have you considered the name Ahsoka?” The sharp points of her teeth were visible through her smile, and her eyes glittered with intent; Padmé suspected she was only half kidding.

    No matter; Padmé found herself smiling in reply and couldn't help but move to loop an arm around Ahsoka's shoulders – a feat now, with the Togruta woman having long since grown taller than her. She squeezed in affection, grateful for her support. “Thanks, Ahsoka,” her voice was warm. “You always know just what to say.”



    .

    .

    Padmé retired soon after that day's session was through, and took Sabé's notes on the speeches she missed back to her room to review. But the words swam before her eyes, and she couldn't concentrate. Her room was too quiet, she quickly decided; she'd gotten too used to a house full of loved ones, and without the twins underfoot and Anakin himself only an arm's length away . . .

    It took only a glance at the chrono to calculate the time on Ossus, and without further consideration she patched a call through and waited -

    - it didn't take Anakin long to answer, and the holofeed bobbed in a way that said he was using the Force to levitate the comm-unit behind him with half a thought, so that her blue hologram could follow him while getting an eye full of whatever it was that had him occupied at that moment. Which, currently was -

    “ - did I call at a bad time, Anakin?” Padmé asked as she took in the scene before her. She blinked, concern rising in her throat as she fought to keep her questions at bay.

    Anakin's reply was a completely sincere: “You, love? Never,” accompanied by a cocky sort of smile – the one that always disarmed her, no matter how serious she was attempting to be. He made a sweeping sort of motion and said in a mock Jedi mind-trick, “There's nothing to see here.”

    Nothing to see being where Anakin was trying to juggle not two – but three children in some chaotic pantomime of bath time. The antiquated tub in their suite on Ossus had been thoughtfully installed with his wife's Nabooian background in mind; Padmé loathed sonic showers in all their forms and Luke and Leia had quickly picked up on their mother's preference. She understood the evening routine for the twins. But, there alongside her own children was -

    “ - 'ara, 'ara, Mommy!” Luke happily chirped when he saw her hologram, splashing the water in his excitement to introduce their guest to her. “This is 'ara.”

    “It's 'ara!” Leia too echoed her brother. “'ara!

    “Yes,” Anakin agreed with their children, “this is our new friend Red.” He swept a hand from the holo to gesture at the third child in the tub. “Padmé, meet Red; Red, Padmé.”

    Red, Padmé looked on to see, was a tiny, tiny little girl, and all the more so in contrast to Luke and Leia – who'd both grown up, thus far, as healthily and as happily as their parents could manage. The poor thing was all skin and bones, with eyes too large for her face and a mess of tangled hair that Anakin was carefully trying to tame into some semblance of order. There was a pinched expression on her husband's face, no matter that he smiled for the children, and Padmé felt her heart go out to the way Red shied away from the exuberance of the twins – clearly looking to Anakin for security and comfort. Even so, the twins' excitement had a subdued edge to it, she noticed. They understood, to some extent, that this girl needed them to be calm; she needed their peace. Padmé looked, and saw where Leia was pushing her favourite Mon Cala ocean-horse toy towards across the water, while Luke smiled earnestly to pass it closer for Red to take. Red watched the bobbing toy with uncannily aware eyes, but made no move to claim the ocean-horse for herself. Instead, she turned, and hid her expression behind Anakin's arm; who sighed.

    “This was not quite the plan,” Anakin huffed out another breath to explain. “I was just trying to get Red cleaned up – the poor thing was filthy, but then the twins decided they wanted a bath too and all was chaos. I was outnumbered.” He ran a wet, soapy hand through his own hair in a frustrated gesture, even as he smiled comfortingly down as Red. “They're distracting her, at least, which is good – I don't know how I would have gotten through this otherwise.”

    Padmé suspected that he had been working on the child's hair for some time now, but it was still a sad looking prospect. She bit her lip, wishing that she was there to help her husband. Anakin saw her expression, and his own look darkened. “Aras gave me a de-tangler to use; cutting it will be a last resort, I hope.”

    Aras, Padmé felt the mystery deepen at the healer's name. If whatever this girl had so clearly been through was enough to require the presence of so senior a healer . . . a healer of the mind . . . she felt her heart twist, and she swallowed her questions even as they came to her by the dozens. She didn't want to ask anything Anakin couldn't answer, not with all three of the children right there and listening. Yet . . .

    “What do you know about her?” she asked broadly, inviting Anakin to share what he could. Anything else, she'd find out later.

    Anakin hesitated, clearly ordering his thoughts in his mind as he formulated an answer. He still worked patiently at detangling the child's hair, distracting her as he said, “Master Depa and Caleb brought her in from the Mav'morut sector; from Orayaim. She's an orphan – well, we think so, at least. We don't know anything for sure – we're operating on conjecture. But she's very, very Force sensitive. Her powers are already developed to a staggering degree.” Anakin was quiet for a moment, and his jaw made a square line as his teeth clenched; she could see a black note of righteous indignation sink to fill his eyes. “We suspect that - ”

    - but whatever he was trying to say was cut off when Luke splashed the water, splattering sudsy droplets against Red's skin, who blinked before going very, very still. Padmé could see the full circle of the girl's irises, even over the holofeed.

    “See, it's fun, 'ara?” the little boy prompted with a broad grin. “It's fun, right?”

    “It's fun!” Leia parroted, and splashed her brother as if to demonstrate. “See?”

    Luke, not one to be outdone by his twin for long, splashed Leia back. Leia, who was equally ready to rise to a challenge, splashed her brother again. The wave of water was clearly aided by the Force, and she drenched her brother. Almost simultaneously, Luke drew his hand back to return the volley, only for Anakin to splash them both to get their attention. “Hey, knock it off, you guys,” he instructed. “Can't you see that Red is - ”

    - but he was interrupted by a small breath of sound from the little girl. It wasn't laughter, not quite, but she did give a dimpling, bashful smile for just a moment before the expression winked away and she stared wide-eyed at the twins again. Luke grinned in triumph. “See?” he addressed Red. “It is fun.”

    Not splashing - he'd been told by his father not to do that - he did, however, use the Force to swirl the water in the tub. Awed as she ever was by just how much power her very young children could so naturally summon, even after knowing the Jedi since her early teenage years, Padmé watched as the water playfully bubbled and rippled. Leia smiled and added her own eddies to the current – just formless paths for the water to follow, but enough that it clearly sloshed about and playfully frothed with bubbles, until -

    - Red watched the path of the Force-manipulated water as if it was a serpent coming towards her. Quickly understanding that this was not something that his new friend enjoyed, Luke stilled his motions and turned to his sister. “La, I don't think - ”

    - but not in time. Red squeezed her eyes shut and with a high, whimpering sound she turned towards Anakin. She waved a hand behind her, as if to swat the water away, and the motion was accompanied by a swell in the Force – and the water retreated from her in a swooshing wave, soaking the twins and drenching Anakin as it splashed all over the bathroom in such a white rush that when the remaining water in the tub found its level again, there was only a couple of inches left. Anakin was dripping wet, Padmé could see when the wave cleared, and shocked to be so. Even Luke and Leia looked at the shivering, distraught girl with wide, gobsmacked eyes.

    Anakin took in a slow, deep breath, and then released it through his teeth. Ignoring his soaked clothes, he picked up Red from the tub and let her cling to him, shushing her as he patted a hand over her still tangled hair. But she was clean enough, at least, and bath-time was certainly at an end now. Padmé stood up straighter in the holofeed and instructed her children where Anakin yet could not: “Come on, you two. Get out and dry off; you're done now. Can you start getting dressed for me while your father takes care of Red?”

    The twins did not need to be told twice. “Yes, mama,” they echoed each other to obey her. Still looking at Red with mournful expressions, they got out and Anakin used the hand that wasn't holding Red to hand towels to them.

    Once they were dry, Luke paused and said to Red before leaving, “It's not supposed to be something that hurts,” with such an aching sort of earnestness, causing Padmé to understand that it wasn't the water that had frightened Red, but the use of the Force itself. She felt something inside of her grow cold at the knowledge, even as her heart clenched, whispering of the deeper implications and leaping to draw conclusions – with each one more unsettling than the last. “It should never hurt.”

    “Thank-you, Luke,” Anakin cracked a small, sad smile to look at his son. “I'll be right out to help you guys.”

    He heaved a deep sigh only after the twins left, and looked up to meet her eyes. “I think,” he admitted, somewhat ruefully, “I'm in over my head. I thought I could help, but . . .” he looked down to where the soaked, shivering little girl was still clinging to him. “I don't even know where to begin.”

    “Something tells me that you are helping,” Padmé comforted, speaking the clear truth as she saw it. “Even though you don't feel like it.”

    “But, am I?” Anakin asked, moving to retrieve another towel for Red, and doing his best to dry her without removing her tense, bloodless grip on him. The last thing the child needed was to catch a chill. “Whatever's been done to her, Padmé, it's like . . .” he lifted a hand to tap his own temples, struggling to find his words. “It unerringly has Sidious' mark on it, and that . . . that terrifies me,” he admitted. He looked away from her then, and focused solely on Red. Padmé watched the gentle, easy way he took care of the girl, and felt her heart twist. She knew that he wouldn't say anything more on the matter – she knew that he couldn't say more while the girl in question was right there with him, and yet, there wasn't much more he needed to say. She understood the implications of his words, however, and she too was troubled by them.

    Who, exactly, was Red? she wondered. And why had the Force guided her into their lives? Was it for ill, as Palpatine's shadowy mark on the child would seem to indicate, or was it something else, something which was only time would reveal in the end?

    Padmé suspected the later; yet she'd lived though dark days enough to believe the first possible, as well. She watched Anakin as her thoughts spun, taking in the easy, tender way he calmed the girl while holding up Leia's night-clothes from last season, attempting to see which would fit Red best. There was such a naturalness to the picture of him with a child, so much so that -

    “ - have I told you, lately, what an amazing father you are?”

    Anakin cocked a brow, and smirked. “Really?” he ruefully countered her observation by gesturing down at his own soaked clothing and the drenched washroom, with the soapy water then puddling and beginning to dry on the stone floor in white-rimmed patterns. “I thank you, my lady, you're too kind,” he shook his head to say. “Maybe two's just our number; anything more than that seems to just be asking for trouble.”

    Though she knew he spoke light-heartedly in order to alleviate the tension in the wake of Red's display of power, they snared at something deep inside of her. She couldn't let them go.

    “I don't know,” Padmé kept her voice nonchalant, as if her every hope and waking dread was not threaded through her words, “I like the idea of us with three. You're an amazing father, Anakin, and I think - ”

    “ - Padmé,” Anakin interrupted her with a pained expression, bordering on incredulousness. “Do you really think that this is the best time to talk about this?” He pointedly looked down at Red, who winced at the turmoil she must have sensed within Anakin, and then at the mess in the bathroom. Padmé fought the urge to sigh. Of course he was right, and, yet . . .

    She shook her head, and waved a hand, as if she had just been expressing a random thought. An inconsequential one. “Of course,” she fought to keep her voice breezy. “I wasn't thinking; I'm sorry. Another time then.” She ignored the instinct she had to lace her hands over her stomach, ready as she was to protect her child from anything – even this. Anakin would read too much into the gesture, she knew; if he wasn't so distracted, she knew that he'd have suspicions already.

    “Another time then,” Anakin agreed, still looking at her strangely. It had been years since she felt that they couldn't discuss things openly between them, and her mask of careful neutrality was then painful to display - it was never an expression she wanted to use in her marriage, with her family. But Anakin was right, from a certain point of view; she needed to wait for a better time.

    Anakin shook his head, clearly trying to ignore the instinct that told him there was something more going on, that warned that there was something bothering her. “Let me get the children settled, and I'll call you back,” he offered instead. A boyish smile stretched over his face, and he smirked to add, “then you can tell me all about the summit. I'll need help falling asleep tonight anyway.”

    Understanding the peace offering for what it was, she inclined her head. “If only to help you sleep, of course,” she huffed to agree.

    “You know I don't sleep when you're gone.” And, just that easily, the simple sincerity of his admission had her heart melting all over again. In her world of doubly-meanings and oftentimes empty gestures, his sincerity, as ever, touched something deep within her. “I love you,” Anakin added after a heartbeat. “You know that, right?”

    “I know,” Padmé found her own expression softening. “And I love you.”

    “Alright, then,” Anakin summoned a stronger smile to say, “I'll talk to you soon.”

    And the holofeed winked away.

    Padmé felt her smile ebb as soon as she was alone again, and, defeated, she let herself fall to slump ungracefully to sit on the couch. She rubbed her hands over her face, wondering why something that should have been wonderful was suddenly so complicated yet again.



    Further on in this 'verse, but not in this story, Padmé will give birth to Shmiq in the midst of a firefight, and Kix will be the medic on hand to help her through her labor. They most certainly include 'Kix' in his middle name after that. No . . . I don't have several little scenarios and bits of world-building like that just waiting to be written. :p ;)


    ~MJ@};-
     
  9. DARTH_MU

    DARTH_MU Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 9, 2005
    K!

    Wow. It is totally worth the wait, MJ!

    There is another..... Skywalker. (Or is it two?) :)

    'Ara! 'Ara! 'Ara!

    Did I say wow?
     
  10. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    I am sorry that I have not reacted to this wonderful gem of a fanfic before. But I was lurking during the sleep watch and the other kindergarten teachers had their mobile phones, too, and so I thought: "Well, I think I could shortly read this, too!"

    Have I ever told you before that you write a very mature version of Anakin? And that I do love his equally mature love story with Padmé?

    Okay, evil still exists in this EU, but the forces of light cooperate way better with one another than in the actual SW universe. The jedi order has matured, too.
     
  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Padme's ordeal with the frustrating secession crisis. "Old grievances and seeping wounds" [face_thinking] That is a sad state of affairs and certainly keeps things stuck. :rolleyes: That seems to be the failing of all governmental structures, no matter the intent. :p
    Ahsoka!!! Love her friendship with Padme and her moral support, and the banter with the clones. LOL How they dote on Leia and discuss names. :)

    Anakin's greatest fears coincide with his greatest loves.... =D= A very insightful statement and true.
    His dread that his happiness, and that tied to having more than 2 children, would be "tempting fate" ... Yikes, very daunting thought!


    Bath time was so frolicking and fun until :eek: [face_nail_biting] Mara/Red is as leery of Force stuff as a bad-broke horse. [face_thinking] How do you heal that? Then Padme's gentle segue into her revelation gets derailed because naturally this isn't the time and it looks like they have something else to think about/potentially deal with. I would hate though if there developed a rift/wedge between the two of them.
     
  12. Darth_Drachonus

    Darth_Drachonus Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Oct 4, 2005
    I'm hooked! Gonna follow, would like to be tagged if you do such things.
     
  13. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Very glad to see this continuing, and of course you are welcome to stretch the story out as long as you want—I'll be here to read. :)

    So wow, this is pretty intense... something pretty sinister is at work if little Red finds a bathtub water swirl scarier than repeated splashes just because the former was done by way of the Force. :eek: For the very source and spirit of all life in the Galaxy to be something this tiny, waifish child finds so instinctively, elementally frightening really does smack of the intervention of the Dark Side, and I shouldn't wonder if the Sheevster were indeed behind this (and indeed it's pretty clear already that he is). But Luke just shines: with his natural reserves of empathy, he's the one who first realizes how his new friend is being affected by the whirlpool, and his response to her is spot-on perfect: "It's not supposed to be something that hurts." There, boys and girls, is the Force summed up in a nutshell. Can I get a "can I get an amen" squirrel meme here, please. :D And indeed, I love the way the twins insisted on having a joint bathtime with Red—shows that they too are taking a personal interest in being her friend in the best way they can. <3

    As always I love your spirited, nuanced view of the Clones, and it's so fun that they get to know the Skywalker family on such a close level. Leia as their alor'ika, their "little chief," is perfect—I can totally see her playing that role even at this young age, and I love that these clones have the good nature to enjoy that rather than bristle at it. That they know about Padmé's pregnancy even before her husband does makes for an interesting dynamic here, though I can tell that they will do everything possible to support her all the way through (yes, I saw what you put behind the spoiler at the end). Very intriguing, too, how Anakin and Padmé's conversation at the end doesn't quiiiite approach the point of revealing the pregnancy, even though it sure comes close. Of course now I'm raring to see what their conversation later in the night, post-youngling-bedtime, will be like! (Will we get that in the next chapter? :D )

    Keep up the wonderful work, and keep this AU rolling! @};-
     
  14. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Enjoying this lovely look at the family that Anakin and Padmé should have had. Anakin is a natural parent, and he is the perfect person to care for little Red. she may very well respond more positively to the nurturing of fellow children who are like her in their powers, and Anakin is literally the only Jedi in the universe who knows what it is like to raise Force sensitive children.

    It's sad that Padmé and Anakin don't feel this is a good time to discuss her pregnancy, Anakin has to know about it and they should be discussing it, even if the timing isn't the best. Of course, in the middle of a tub catastrophe probably isn't the most optimal opportunity.

    I love it that Leia is already showing signs of her leadership, with the clone troopers quick to attend to her every need out of a sense not of spoiling the princess but because they recognize the authority she already seems to possess. And Luke is already showing the empathy for others and his natural talent for teaching as he tries to help Red sort through this strange experience. There is still much to uncover about this mysterious Mara, and Anakin and Padmé are right to be concerned.
     
  15. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Aw, thank-you! I'm glad it was worth the wait! :D [face_blush]

    There is just one more Skywalker for now - but you never know what the future may hold . . . [face_whistling]


    I love writing this version of Anakin - and Padmé, too! I'm thrilled to know you're enjoying their depiction in this story, and I hope you continue to enjoy as the tale continues . . . [face_love]


    Doesn't it with politics? :oops: You just can't win, no matter how good your intentions . . . :(

    The purely Ahsoka and Padmé episodes in TCW were some of my favourites, so I loved carrying that relationship over here. And of course Leia has a devoted following in her 'uncles'. :p She has just the right combination of forthright bravery and natural leadership that the clones would find enchanting, that's for sure! [face_love]

    Anakin's definitely in a self-perpetuating pickle - it's a double edged sword, being able to glimpse the future and the many directions it can take - but don't you worry, this is just a bump in the road between Anakin and Padmé, but they'll deal with it together. [face_love]

    As always, I thank you so much for reading, my friend! [:D]


    Of course I can! Welcome to the story - it's fantastic to see a new face! [face_dancing][:D]


    Aw, thank-you! That's always good to hear, because my muse has ideas, lemme tell you! [face_mischief] :p

    Preach it, sistuh! ;) ^:)^ But, in all seriousness - the Force should be such a dynamic entity for good, but its sad how its twisted and abused by those wielding it. You can get into so much meta about the exact nature about the light/dark sides of the Force, but, for these children right here and now, their growing powers should be nothing but wondrous, and for Mara to fear it so intrinsically instead . . . [face_worried] :( Yep, the Sheevster is up to his eyeballs in no good, that's for sure.

    But, we have Luke and his amazing empathy; I like thinking of him and Mara as two peas in a pod no matter the circumstances of their meeting. [face_love]

    And it's so very refreshing to be able to write a happy ending approaching for all of these dear boys! Order 66 was horrifying on both sides of the line, and I'm just enjoying writing about a time and place where it did not exist. Of course Leia's forthrightness and natural leadership would be something that they'd take a shine too - who wouldn't? :p

    Writing this second pregnancy is all sorts of interesting, too - poor Anakin, he's going to be dumbstruck again!

    In order to keep the plot rolling, I'm just going to allude to it, unfortunately! Padmé's going to keep the news to herself until she can tell Anakin in person, but there will be the big reveal in this story. [face_mischief]

    [:D] As always, I thank you so very much for reading, and for taking the time to leave your thoughts! [face_love]


    Exactly. I will never get over this dynamic, I tell you, and I'm having a blast writing daddy!Anakin. [face_love]

    Not the best time at all, unfortunately! :( It's still super new news - Padmé just found out for herself while away from home, and while Anakin knows there's something bothering her, he's a bit too preoccupied with Red to have figured it out yet. But, all will be revealed the next time they're together in person, that's for sure! [face_love]

    Because no matter how much things change, some things will always stay the same! It's interesting to write personalities we all already know and love under vastly different circumstances, yet still keep them as themselves. [face_thinking]

    As always, I thank you so much for reading, and hope that you continue to enjoy the story! :) [:D]


    Alright, there will be more up in just a minute . . . :D


    ~MJ @};-
     
  16. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Author's Note: For those of you who are new to this story, or would like a refresher of the events mentioned in "An Old Song Re-Sung", I have a few handy plot points behind the cut to explain a few notes relevant to this chapter. As always, I thank you all so much for reading! :)

    In AOSRS, since there was no Order 66 interrupting them, Ahsoka and the clones of Torrent Company were allowed a re-do against Darth Maul during the Siege of Mandalore. This time, he didn't get away. It's mentioned in the previous story that Ahsoka succeeded in taking him alive back to the Temple - and that, along with her year spent away surviving on her own, definitely qualified for her trials as a Jedi Knight. She only took the Council up on the offer after the Jedi/GAR Reconstruction Act went into effect, however, and is still happier with the military than she is with the Order, but, that's understandably to be expected. I still really need to write this story from her POV, that said - I have it all mapped out and outlined, I just need to put pen to paper! [face_love]

    So, now we come to Darth Maul and Obi-Wan's very unique relationship here . . . [face_mischief]

    Darth_Drachonus







    III

    “Kenobi; you've come again.”

    It had taken him years to earn even the simplest of greetings from their Zabrak guest. A part of Obi-Wan acknowledged the progress he'd made, while another part of him - a larger part that day, perhaps - wanted to sigh for the futility of it all.

    Thankfully, he'd always possessed an inordinate amount of stubbornness, and he knew how best to channel that quality for his own advantage. So, ignoring his own frustrations and heavy thoughts, he put on his most disarming smile and crossed the threshold of the door. He lingered just within the entrance and politely bowed his head in greeting - even as the room's one occupant sat with his shoulders angled away from him in favor of staring out of the single, solitary window. It was a small room he entered, little more than the cell it truly was, but it was clean, and it was comfortable. It was, perhaps, more than its resident deserved. Many voices had demanded a more strenuous confinement for their prisoner, at that, and were baffled as to why he did not earn a harsher sentence that Temple house-arrest and sessions with the Jedi Order's mind healers. The Council's decision had not sat well with most.

    But then, Obi-Wan Kenobi was slowly, but surely, learning the value of standing against the grooves established by most.

    “It's good to see you too, Maul,” he greeted breezily, as if he was visiting an old friend. The annoyance that rippled across Maul's shoulders in reply was its own form of reward – as petty as that was. “Do you mind if I join you?”

    The former Sith Lord huffed out a breath, but did not turn to look at him. He continued to stare down at the jungle below with focused, black lidded eyes.

    “Would you leave if I did object to your presence?” the biting edge to Maul's voice had diminished over the years, like a blade dulled by striking stone. Nonetheless, a weapon it still remained.

    “No,” Obi-Wan admitted bluntly. “But I would prefer if you did not wish for me to leave.”

    A heartbeat passed. “You may do as you will. I care not.”

    Claiming the small victory for what it was, Obi-Wan nodded in acknowledgment, no matter that Maul was not looking his way in order to see. By then, they'd long since established a routine: as a polite guest, he took off his boots and hung up his cloak by the door. Then, he turned to the apartment's tiny kitchenette to start the kettle for tea. He brought his own set with him – Maul had quickly demonstrated that he was not to be trusted with any breakable utensils, and he'd yet to earn that privledge back. Yet Obi-Wan had been taught since a young age that earthenware kettles were the only way to go. This particular one, a stone pot from Keechim, was one of the few earthly possessions Qui-Gon had left behind. It had been cherished in life by the master, and served to teach the apprentice appreciation for the fine art of brewing. Obi-Wan placed the kettle down to boil, and let his hand rest against the grooves etched into the handle for just a moment, as if to draw in strength from his memories.

    He imagined, more than felt, the support of a ghostly hand resting against his shoulder. The Temple Guardians who ensured Maul's confinement preemptively set up wards that deflected the Force away from the room. While it was impossible to negate the Force entirely, their own combined presences were enough to set up a bubble, of a sort, where the Force moved in faint, drowsy whispers – enough so that Obi-Wan was simply aware of its presence more than he was apart of its ebb and flow. There was little even he could do to manipulate the Force in that room. It was a terrible way to ensure that a Force-sensitive guest remained . . . polite, but it was sadly necessary.

    No matter how comfortable his appointments or how small his freedoms, Maul truly was a prisoner, and Obi-Wan could imagine no worse a cage.

    Beyond them, visible through the window, one of the older initiate clans was practicing their lightsaber forms on the green below. Even from a height above them, Obi-Wan could see their happy smiles as they learned their art and rejoiced in their developing skills alongside their crèchemates. The war had greatly . . . weakened their ranks of Padawans; Knights and Masters, as well. These young ones represented the future of the Jedi Order, and were poised to fill a need - now pressingly vital - demanded by the galaxy. These future Padawans, Obi-Wan was relieved to know, would not complete their training on the front-lines of a battle field, as so many unnaturally had to do before them; that would never be the calling of the Jedi again.

    Yet Obi-Wan's reflections were not shared by Maul, he did not think. Maul may have endeavored to keep an emotionless front in his presence, but Obi-Wan could see the flicker in his eyes – now a dark shade of earthen brown, nearly black, but naturally so. Whether it was jealousy or yearning in Maul's gaze, he could not say, but Maul made a fist of his hands and stared at the children without looking away. Obi-Wan, through the little he'd gleaned of the former Sith's own training, knew that he did not have as kind a memory as practicing with his peers in the fresh air of a beautiful planet. And now, little would he know of the sunlight again.

    When the tea kettle whistled, he added the leaves, still lost in his thoughts. A soft, earthy aroma filled the air, cut by a sweet note of keechii grass and tart Yi'xan pear-leaves. It was a new blend he was fond of, and the latest he was trying to tempt Maul into drinking. The Zabrak had yet to touch a single drop of any cup he made.

    It's all leaf juice to me, Master, he could still hear Anakin crinkle his nose to say - but his former apprentice would still try every brew he made, if just for the companionship of the gesture. Obi-Wan let the thought - the reminder - steel him, and found his strength.

    It was, by then, somewhat of a tradition between them – Obi-Wan set up the tea service on the small table between the two chairs by the window, and, at last, Maul turned to face him in order to silently set up the cu'bikad board he also brought with him. They were quiet as they worked in sync, with not a word spoken between them.

    Is this a tradition you picked up from your thralls?” Maul had smiled an ugly smile to challenge, the first time Obi-Wan brought the game along.

    And Obi-Wan had stared him levelly in the eye, and refused to show him the reaction he was looking for. “No,” he responded, his voice serene. “I learned this from Satine.”

    Satine. Here, more so than usual, her memory was a throbbing bruise upon his spirit. Obi-Wan liked to think that she'd approve of his endeavors here; he had to imagine that she'd understand his reasons for trying.

    . . . well, perhaps she'd merely tolerate his reasoning, Obi-Wan acknowledged wryly. Pacifist though she may have been, Satine was still Mandalorian, in her own way, and her people had . . . opinions on vengeance - justice - that went deeper than most races. Though she'd consider such a base outlook beneath her morals, perhaps having tea with an old, personal enemy, for the sake of the enemy, would have been asking too much.

    “You look tired, Kenobi,” Maul finally remarked. He still did not make eye contact; he did not glance at the cup of tea Obi-Wan poured for him, but he did thoughtfully study the cu'bikad board – the real wooden cu'bikad board, and not the holographic sort that Satine's reign made popular. Cody had scoffed over not using true knives to play, just days after the first battle of Geonosis, and Obi-Wan himself had used this board, carved by his battalion as a gift, ever since.

    You trust me to hold live steel in my hand?” Maul's eyes had glittered the first time they played, and Obi-Wan had fixed him with a level stare that all but dared him to act on his thoughts. Maul was not the only dangerous one in the room, even without the Force. “What a poor jailer you are,” Maul had chuckled, but he'd never once moved to act in violence. The threat simply remained between them, dormant and unacknowledged.

    “It's Obi-Wan, Maul,” he automatically corrected, subtly stressing the man's name in order to make his point. Until he was given another appellation, the Nightbrother's given name he would use. Sadly, it was not a Sith Lord's chosen title. “And . . . yes, I do suppose I am tired.” Exhausted, really, if he was honest with himself - he had not realized just how much he'd given to the Force as of late until removing himself from its succor and support.

    “It is exhausting,” Maul's voice was a slow ripple of sound, “bending the denizens of the galaxy to the whims of your Republic.” As always, he claimed the opening move for himself, and slid his first knife into place. “How is the war effort coming along, that said?”

    “One may call that an ironic accusation,” Obi-Wan parried his words without addressing them outright, “coming from a disciple of Sidious.”

    A shadow passed over Maul's eyes. “I know what I am,” he replied evenly, “ . . . or what I was, I should say. You'll find no hypocrisy in me by denying it.” He's next blow was clear.

    “You may think of it like that, from a certain point of view, then. But yes, the return of the seceded worlds to the Republic is going well; we are listening to their grievances and making an honest attempt at change where change is needed. Those who profited, and tried to seize power – and expand their power into defenseless systems, however, will do so for little longer. They will be brought to justice.” For that, his voice turned hard – he was not the only one who had lost too much, for too long; this war had left a wound on the galaxy that would not quickly heal, and for that he did know a sense of roused ire. He could not keep an icy edge from cutting into his eyes.

    And Maul saw, no matter that he did not comment. He made a humming sound in the back of his throat before huffing out a breath. It took Obi-Wan a moment to understood his impatience, and he finally took a move of his own. He always did take longer with his turns, while Maul played mostly on impulse.

    “Yet,” it was a full minute before Maul spoke again, “I have felt a disturbance in the Force, these last few days. It has . . . called to me, even in this loathsome chamber. What, exactly, have you stumbled across, Kenobi?”

    “It's Obi-Wan,” he corrected absently, wondering how best to proceed in order to find the answers he was seeking; this was the primary reason for his visit, after all. He leaned back, and thoughtfully stroked his beard. Honesty, he'd long ago found, was the best approach with Maul; it surprised him, and did not allow his suspicions to turn into outright hostility. “And you are right,” he admitted. “We have stumbled across something most distressing: a very young human girl, Force-sensitive . . . who has, to the best of our knowledge, been in the care and keeping of your former Master until now.”

    Obi-Wan did not have to ask his question - it hovered in the air between them, pointed and expectant.

    “Sidious will do as he pleases,” Maul rumbled deep in his chest to answer the unspoken. “I have not been privy to his plans in many years.” A heartbeat passed, and then, more quietly: “If I ever was.”

    Obi-Wan allowed the comment to pass without a remark; it would not be well received, he knew, even if his curiosity – and his empathy – were truly felt. He checked both emotions, and instead watched as Maul fidgeted in his seat – he always was in some state of perpetual movement, and the new, prosthetic waist and legs the Temple healers had been able to fit him with gave him tangible, physical sensation as well as full mobility and functionality. A number of the improvements in the prosthetic circuitry came from Anakin himself, Obi-Wan was proud to say, and further improvements were being made every day. He further expected that to be much of the reason why Maul humored his visits – this restoration of his body was different than the painful morphs of Mother Talzin, or the various other self-built forms he'd tried over the years. Maul had his honor, in his own, twisted way.

    And Obi-Wan sought to call upon that honor now. “Yet, you too were taken from Dathomir as a child, were you not?” he pushed, wanting to draw his companion out.

    He was greeted with stony silence in return, but Obi-Wan did not truly expect anything else – not at first. Aras and the other healers had been able to glean bits and pieces of Maul's story, but it was difficult and slow going. After three years, they knew the vaguest brushstrokes of his past: Maul had known nothing else but the Dark since his conception, it seemed. Born into a clan of Nightsisters, he was given to the Sith for a cold childhood on Mustafar, where he was raised by droids and lived for Sidious' infrequent visits - as he himself was still an apprentice to another Sith Lord at that time. Aras had hesitantly identified a memory of light, at the very beginning – that memory, while being the event that set him on his current life's course also gave them hope for breaking the hold of the Dark on him in the years to come. Obi-Wan, however, did not bother asking what Maul would never willingly agree to share. Not yet.

    Yet, as ever, Maul had the ability to surprise him. “It's easier to mold a mind starting from their youngest years,” he muttered, offering up the comment without prodding. Yet, his eyes narrowed. “Which is something that the Jedi Order knows well of, does it not?” His words were another blunted blow – but Obi-Wan was not foolish. He saw the deflection for what it was.

    Knew well of, I believe you meant to say,” Obi-Wan corrected absently – breezily, even. “But,” he did not allow their conversation to veer, “this girl . . . her mind. She can't yet be three years of age, and already your Master's presence is built like a thorny hedge along her psyche. It is . . .” horrifying. Disquieting. Troubling. Obi-Wan could not find the right word when he needed each and all to explain the deep felt disgust and regret he felt for the child's plights. So, he snapped his mouth shut with an audible click of his teeth.

    - but not before Maul could feel a shadow of his anger, no matter how righteously it may have been inspired. His red and black slashed lips stretched until Obi-Wan could see his teeth; the expression was like a knife-wound on his face. “So she wasn't being trained as the Apprentice, then?”

    “Perhaps; perhaps not,” Obi-Wan shrugged, taking his next move. “You are the one with the expertise here. I am simply seeking . . . clarification.”

    “Careful; the Dark has ensnared the curious before,” Maul gave a low, chuckling sound to say. He took his next move, and Obi-Wan stared at the board, seeing a glimmer of opportunity in the moves to come . . . he thought he knew how the game would end. “But, no,” Maul continued. “ . . . a certain amount of mental independence is allowed in apprentices. Until they grow too powerful, of course, and then a wise master will move on to the next. But, you already know that – do you not?”

    Anakin. Obi-Wan did not need Maul's reminder. But the former Sith enjoyed pushing at his own tender spots, and this bruise in particular was enough to bring a defensive sort of roused anger to the forefront of his mind. It was a wound that no amount of meditation or serene Jedi acceptance was able to heal; not yet, and perhaps not ever.

    That small, crooked smile remained upon Maul's mouth. A spot of amber glittered in his dark brown eyes. Obi-Wan did not care for the look in the slightest.

    “So, Sidious allowed you your independence?” even so, he kept his focus. He would not rise to the bait. He felt his anger, existed with it . . . and let it go.

    “With repeated lessons of what would occur if I were to overstep my bounds, of course.” Maul gave an indifferent shrug. “But I was trained with the lethal since I learned to walk; it culled the weak in others . . . for there were others, few as they were that survived. Yet . . . this girl.” He frowned, and for the first his causal antagonism turned truly thoughtful. “Sidious is not one to give up what is his own – even if it is a broken toy.” A note of bitterness filled his voice; Obi-Wan could feel it echo sluggishly in the Force for its deep, old roots in Maul's mind. “Why is she here, then?” he mused aloud. “Is she planted here, with a larger plan in mind . . . or has he simply misplaced her?”

    “I do not know,” Obi-Wan answered honestly – well aware that Maul had not necessarily been speaking to him. “But that is what I intend to find out.”

    Maul simply huffed; he did not say anything more. For a time, the game simply continued on, with Obi-Wan pushing and dancing into Maul's side of the board, while Maul's moves grew more drastic and daring to combine both defense and offense as one to push him out. But Obi-Wan kept his focus, and pushed forward.

    “She was found on Orayaim,” Obi-Wan waited a full minute to share. “Do you know of it?”

    He did not have to wait for a reaction: Maul's hand tightened on his current knife, and an old fire - furious in its rage lit a spark of gold in his eyes. His every muscle was clenched, even as he bit out a short, “No.”

    Liar, Obi-Wan thought, but did not immediately contradict him. Maul had fallen too suddenly - inexplicably, even, from his occupation of Mandalore, only to show up months later to try his hand at conquest again. There was too much unexplained in the interim, and Obi-Wan suspected that -

    “ - as a potential overlord of the sector, I had thought you would know that which you sought to subject,” Obi-Wan blithely pointed out as he slipped his next blade into place. Maul always did get sloppy when his temper overtook him, and he kept his eyes open to press his advantage.

    “Fifteen hundred systems is a bit much to memorize,” Maul growled. “I doubt even your dutchess knew them all.”

    She knew every one, Obi-Wan felt an old, familiar grief well up inside of him, before that too he allowed to pass.

    “We have chased Sidious from one enclave to the next,” Obi-Wan let Maul's defensive taunt roll off of him like water from stone, and instead gave voice to his own theory. “We know that he has places to hide all over the galaxy. But he would need to have somewhere stable enough to raise a child, even in his own way - ”

    “ - it has been many years since I would have known anything of it,” Maul interrupted, his voice deceptively soft.

    “Of course,” Obi-Wan allowed, even as the hesitant trail he was testing solidified into a path in his mind.

    He leaned back in his chair, and steepled his fingertips before his chin. He had much to contemplate now. More questions leapt to the forefront of his mind, but just a glance at Maul told him that he would not get much further than he already had. The former Sith sat with his shoulders hunched forward and his hands braced on the edge of his chair, his every taut muscle screaming agitation and brittle, barely restrained aggression.

    With just a glance at the board, Obi-Wan slid his last knife into place. It was over now; there were but a few moves left for Maul to take, and each would end the same way: defeat.

    “Are you going to take your turn?” still, he welcomed him to try.

    “It's over,” Maul did not have to study the board to know. “Each move will only have the same outcome.”

    Wisely, Obi-Wan knew better than to suggest a rematch.

    Even so, he would not forget his manners - the same tactics that, ironically, Qui-Gon had taught him in order to negotiate with an uncooperative combatant, so many years ago. “More tea, then?” he offered as he poured another cup for himself. He concentrated on the feel of the stone-ware in his hands, on the scent of the steam as it wafted up to his nose. He breathed in and out with his memories.

    Maul did not glance at his still full mug, now cooled. Instead, he turned away from the game - and him, in favor of watching the students practice on the border of the jungle below. “No. I have lost my taste for it.”

    He never had it to begin with. “Alright, then.” Obi-Wan prepared himself to sit in silence with a sigh. “As you wish.”



    .

    .

    Obi-Wan allowed himself just time enough to finish his last cup of tea before he left Maul alone to simmer in his thoughts.

    He exited to see Anakin waiting in the hall, drumming the fingers of his artificial hand against the hilt of his lightsaber as he paced up and down the corridor and back in a restless, prowling loop. Just outside of the door, two Guardians stood at poised attention, with their unmoving vigil playing a striking counterpoint to Anakin's moody stalking.

    “What did he say?” Anakin did not wait for him to speak first. “Did you find out anything?” He came to an abrupt halt, and his robes fluttered to fall still behind him. Agitation rolled off of him in waves, brushing over Obi-Wan like static as he opened himself to the Force once more.

    “He revealed nothing that we did not already know,” Obi-Wan shrugged to respond. Knowing what Anakin did not - would not - ask, he held his hands slightly away from his sides as if to demonstrate that he was still in one piece, with all of his limbs attached. He wiggled all ten of his fingers for the younger Knight's inspection. A smile was enough to assure Anakin that, mentally and emotionally, he had survived as well. Then, and only then, did the taut line of Anakin's shoulders relax – but only just. There was still a furrowed line to his brow, and the awesome might of his presence in the Force thrummed to his senses - like a solar storm flaring out from a young blue star. Obi-Wan did not have to ask to know that Anakin had more than Maul's reticence on his mind. Between the mystery of young Red, and veiled comments Anakin had made about Padmé over the past few days, he knew that his former Padawan was troubled on more than one front, and perhaps rightly so.

    But that was a conversation for another time. They would figure our how best to help Red, Obi-Wan did not allow himself to entertain any thoughts to the contrary, and whatever was troubling Padmé – and her husband by extension, would no doubt be better expressed and resolved when the couple was reunited at the end of that five-day. With a nod to each of the Guardians, Obi-Wan gestured, and fell into step next to Anakin as they turned down the hall. The soft grey light, filtering down through the jungle canopy was visible from the wide windows ahead; storms were building again, he knew it would rain soon.

    “This is useless,” Anakin finally huffed. “Trying to get information out of Maul always has been impossible.”

    He couldn't let the opening pass. “I don't know, young one. If I gave up on every seeming impossibility, the Force only knows where you would be right now,” Obi-Wan wryly pointed out.

    But the jab worked as intended: it brought an annoyed half-smile to Anakin's face. “You wound me, Master,” he protested. For that moment, a much younger boy spoke through his mouth. But, for all of the subtle humor in his words, there was a thread of truth to them. Obi-Wan wanted to make sure that Anakin understood his why he was compelled to lend his hand in aid, even if it was an emotion that he himself was unsure of how to put into words at times.

    “Sometimes,” he dove in to try his best anyway, “I fear that I have not tried hard enough . . . fought hard enough for the things I should have. As long as Maul remains in our care, you understand why I feel I must try, don't you, Anakin?”

    Since reaching the rank of Jedi Master and taking his seat upon the Council, Obi-Wan had stood passively by for too much, for too long, he felt. He'd been silent, he'd not fought hard enough against the Jedi standing up as generals, rather than peacekeepers; he'd been complacent in using the clone army after getting to know his soldiers as men, rather than weapons; he hadn't raised his voice loud enough during Ahsoka's trial, and instead gave in to the politics of the Republic when leaving her to Admiral Tarkin and his wolves for the greater good. Then, worst of all, for his blindness to Palpatine's hold on Anakin himself, for years, he'd almost lost that which was dearest to him.

    . . . his failures were enough that, sometimes, Obi-Wan couldn't breathe at the thought of them. Their weight on his shoulders – on his soul, was crippling, at times. He would no longer allow himself to stand idly by when there was something - anything, he could do.

    “You are only one man; you're putting too much on yourself.” For feeling an echo of his thoughts, Anakin loyally defended him. The certainty in his voice only served to humble Obi-Wan further. “And Maul's crimes are despicable. You'd be human for denying him mercy.”

    For the death of Qui-Gon . . . for the murder of Satine . . . even the barest whisper of those memories hurt. Yet . . . how could he honor his love for either if he did not reach out a hand to help a drowning man when he knew he could? Even if Maul himself did not realize that he was drowning, it did not matter. Obi-Wan would yet have him breathe.

    “It may be human, perhaps - but would I be fulfilling my oath as a Jedi if I did?” Obi-Wan countered, somewhat wearily. Anakin's mouth thinned for just a moment at the subtle counsel. “Dathomiri traditions are harsh – and those of the Nightsisters are heinously so; Maul knew the worst of his own culture and had no guiding hand following but for that of Sidious. Yet, if he had been discovered and trained as a Jedi, instead . . . how would things have been different? Would I have, perhaps, known him as a comrade in arms rather than an enemy?” Obi-Wan had thought enough on the matter himself to be able to ask the hard questions aloud without faltering. “We are all creatures of circumstance, and if his had been any different . . . the Force is not yet done with him, nor with me, I feel. Until it is . . .” but he pursed his mouth into a thin line, and glanced to his side to see how Anakin took his words. “I will do what I feel must be done.”

    Even for Anakin, if Qui-Gon had not stumbled across him on Tatooine . . . what would have became of him? Would life had treated him kindly, as kindly as it could for a slave, at least, or would some darker entity like Sidious have found -

    - but he cut that line of thought off at the roots, and did not allow himself to consider it further. This was their here and now, and he would live in the time he knew rather than dwelling on thoughts of another.

    . . . any other.

    Even so, knowing what he should do was easier than actually doing so at times. His thoughts, unfortunately, remained heavy.

    “You are a better man than I am, Master,” Anakin finally sighed through his nose to say . . . but he no longer argued. Even if he did not agree, he understood.

    But it was not yet enough for Obi-Wan. He found his next words pouring out of him – shameful thoughts that he had kept to himself, locked deep within his mind, since the day of Palpatine's reveal. For what he saw of the future they'd just barely circumvented, for knowing of his own unwitting part in those dark days . . . he had to speak. “If Palpatine had succeeded in his machinations, Anakin, and turned you to his side . . . I like to think that there is not a force in the galaxy that would have held me back from trying to reclaim you. I would not have left you to the Dark; I would have died trying to return you to the Light. Yet, what I see instead . . .” what he saw of that other time, other place, shamed him. He could not think of it without guilt; without abhorrence.

    He was done standing passively by - like a stone standing firm against the white-water currents of destiny. He would shape what a better world he could, whenever he could, for those he loved now.

    A long, heavy moment passed in silence. What sunlight there was through the heavy cloud cover fell down on them through dappled shadows as they turned down a corridor of soft blue and green prismed glass. The patterns of light flickered as they passed, thrown in scattered reflections by the crystal.

    “You can't live your life in penance for a future that will never be – a future that we kept from befalling,” Anakin finally said. His words sounded rehearsed to Obi-Wan's ears – as if he said them to himself all too often. “Besides,” he forced a grin. “We both know how stubborn I can be – you can't put my actions on your shoulders, in this or any life.”

    It was not enough, and it would never be – not where his heart was concerned, but Obi-Wan appreciated the sentiment of him trying. When he at last had no more words remaining, he reached out to rest a hand on Anakin's shoulder, and squeezed. Through their still open training bond in the Force, he pushed his feelings of pride belonging love for having his apprentice in his life. It did not escape his notice how Anakin leaned into the affection, as if starved for such assurance even after years of Obi-Wan being more comfortable with the necessity of affirming their connection - verbally, spiritually, and physically. As ever, he felt a weariness for having viewed the need for affection as a slippery slope to attachment for so many years; such erroneous thinking had almost cost him too much; it had almost cost him everything.

    . . . yet he could only change how he took his each step forward, rather than regretting the ones already walked. This was his path now, and there were already many uncertain turns ahead without lamenting the ones he could not change.

    “Well then,” Obi-Wan forced his voice to take a lighter note, even if he could not yet reach a stage of levity, “if you cannot understand why I am doing so for Maul, you can most certainly understand why I am for Red. Perhaps, in time even Maul himself will be moved to aid the child – long before he would have felt compelled to do so for us.”

    For that, Anakin did roll his eyes. “I admire your faith,” he drolly allowed. “And I do hope you're right,” he added on a softer tone of voice, “for Red's sake.”

    “What would this galaxy be without hope – in any path our lives could take?” Obi-Wan philosophized. “Come now, the rain has stopped, and I find myself in need of fresh air before the storms come again. There will be more than ample time to contemplate what we have learned later.”



    .

    .

    For the summer monsoon season, the rains were almost constant in the jungles of Ossus. The air was hot and heavy with humidity, and his brow was constantly wet with sweat. He absently wiped the back of his hand across his forehead as he worked, taking the opportunity presented by one of the gaps between the storms to go about his duties out of doors. The richness of the season prompted both the wanted and the unwanted to grow in the flowerbeds, and he lost himself in the tedious but necessary task of weeding away the imposter vines from the careful landscaping arranged around the Temple proper. The thorny akoa vines were choking the mu'ulk bushes, and retained more water than the native plants, making them grow faster and denser. It was tricky to take the vines from the roots without also harming the planted bushes, but his patience would ultimately be rewarded in the end.

    Around him, his fellow groundskeepers muttered good-naturedly about the sogginess of the weather. He had never minded the rain, himself; he preferred it, actually. It reminded him of home. The art of caring for the land and what grew from it was a new path for him, but as with any skill he sought about obtaining, he developed it, and developed it well.

    And, all the while, he watched . . . and waited.

    He was not the only one outdoors and taking in the reprieve in the weather. To the right of the row of mu'ulk bushes, one of the senior initiate clans was practicing their lightsaber forms. It took more for him to calmly go about his work next to so many live blades than it did to work in the muggy soup of the Ossus summer, but he had the self-discipline required to manage, unnoticed. The heat of the swords buzzing and moving through the oppressive humidity had the atmospheric moisture bubbling and popping; the very air they breathed was charged.

    To the left of the flowerbeds, however, was a more peaceful scene. There, the Jedi younglings were being overseen by a Gran crèchemaster, and were practicing moving colorful orbs of light with their minds. One, a pink skinned Zeltron girl was sitting before three human children and enthusiastically showing them how to manipulate the orbs in a corkscrewing motion. The two – siblings, were already catching on with what the older children were doing – prodigiously so, even he knew. The third, however . . .

    The third child looked as if she was holding herself as still as he himself was next to the ebb and flow of the Force. The child was tiny, even for her age, and had wide, wary green eyes. It was a look he recognized, and understood from long experience. She wanted to run, but instead sat with her legs folded close to her chest and her head bowed so that her chin touched her knees, as if to present the smallest target of her body possible. She was hiding, in plain view of all; such had been the same routine for days now.

    The little boy noticed his friend's unease, however, and smiled to show her the orb he was spinning in a slow, gentle motion. His attention was the reason she did not run, he suspected, but she was clearly unhappy to stay.

    He reached down to find another vine at the root, and hooked his fingers in the rich, black soil to dig it up. After a moment's resistance, it yielded, and the mu'ulk bush was then free to breathe. In the time it took for him to look up again, a commotion buzzed through the younglings – stemming from the arrival of two familiar adults, it seemed. One, the Hero Without Fear, was clearly recognizable thanks to the HoloNet constantly plastering him as the posterboy of the Republic's propaganda machine.

    And, the other . . .

    He found his next vine, and unearthed it with a sharp tug, disturbing more of the soil than he would have liked in the process. But the mu'ulk bush would survive; it was a hardy plant.

    “Master Obi-Wan!” the dark haired little girl was happy to leave her brother and friends to run up to the Jedi Master. “Look what Rhysa taught me!”

    “And a good afternoon to you too, my little princess,” the elder Jedi was equally happy to greet her. “Show me what you've learned.”

    The girl fairly beamed at the open pride and affection in his voice, while Skywalker sat down between the little boy and the red haired girl. Already, the child turned towards the adult, clearly seeking, and finding, comfort in his presence; but she no longer clung to him.

    A low rumbling sounded overhead, causing them all to look up at the warning from the heavens. The storms were not yet done with them that day, and the rains would soon begin again. The little girl flinched to hear the sky growl, and he remembered being equally as young, and not understanding where the thunder came from, just as he remembered turning to . . .

    - but he took a deep breath in as the first drops of rain fell, and exhaled slowly. He wiped his brow again, leaving a stain of dark earth behind against his skin. Before long, the vines would have to wait until the latest round of storms passed.

    “So much for some fresh air, huh, Obi-Wan?” Skywalker laughed to lament – standing with the clear intention of returning back indoors.

    “Sometimes, the universe does seem to have its own sense of humor,” Kenobi sighed to agree. “You can show me what you learned inside, Leia; I can't wait to see,” he nonetheless assured the dark haired little girl as the crèchemaster started marshaling the young ones inside. To his right, the older initiates laughed to flex their sabers at the rain; it seemed that they too would stay to welcome the storm, for as long as they could.

    He continued to watch as Skywalker scooped up the waifish girl, who instantly wrapped her arms around his neck in a clearly relieved gesture. As the small group turned to head inside, the child found his gaze across the grass . . . and stared. He had no doubt that he held her full attention.

    He met her wide green eyes levelly, not blinking until the entrance to the Temple swallowed her from view. Even then, he did not look away.

    A moment passed, and then he turned back to continue on with his task. There was still time before the storm was fully upon them, and he was patient. He could wait.



    ~MJ @};-
     
  17. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Hmmm. This mystery character pulling weeds........ I'm not sure what to think of him.
     
  18. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Oh, Mira.
    Your interplay of the ambience of yummy tea with a contest of words & wills over a game-board. =D=
    Superb introspection and characterization with Obi-wan feeling such a jumble of emotions: resolve, regret, loss, and affection.

    The compelling juxtaposition of conversations: the adversarial one with Maul and the candid affirming one with Anakin.
    "Living in penance of a circumvented future" & "not even contemplating any other possible future" -- these have echoes of what could have been and thankfully didn't transpire. You can practically touch the sense of relief!
    Hmmm. Seems Red is not as leery and clingy as before. LOL Not sure if they unearthed any more solid clues about her origins and Sidious' plans: was she misplaced or purposely left for them to "rescue?"
     
  19. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Wow, this is definitely taking a different and interesting turn now that Maul is in the picture. Ohmigosh, he is just as much of a manipulative creep in this universe as he is in the main one! (Well, he learned from the best, I suppose! :emperor: )

    What a conversation—Obi-Wan has nerves of steel to talk so calmly with this dangerous maniac while calmly drinking tea (or “leaf water,” depending on your point of view :p ) and playing a game involving knives. I don’t know many other people from the Jedi Order of this AU who could pull that off. (Thank goodness for all the safeguards that have been put in place.) I would bet Maul knows more about the Mara than he lets on; he knows enough to call Mara a “broken toy” (!!), at least. (Eek, what a way to describe her! :eek: ) It sure will be interesting to see if he will ultimately be able to help Mara, as Obi surmises.

    In another striking intersection between your AU and the main universe, it’s very cool hear to see Obi-Wan ruminating on what things would have been like if he had had to pull Anakin away from the dark. He says he’d “like to think” that nothing would be able to hold him back from trying to save Anakin, that he "would have died trying”—and we, of course, know that’s exactly what he does. But here, too, as with Anakin’s earlier ruminations here and in AOSRS, there’s a hint that there’s more to this than a mere “what if”; it feels a lot more real and present. I wonder if Obi-Wan is now picking up on the alternate reality that haunted Anakin.

    I have to agree with Cowgirl that there’s something a bit funny (funny strange) about this gardener character who is watching the younglings at their exercises so closely. He is clearly “watching and waiting” for something specific, and possibly specifically for the little girl we know to be Mara. And who is he? Well, one thing that seems to be a sizable clue is the fact that [hl=black]the rain “reminded him of his home,”[/hl] which is getting me thinking that [hl=black]this might be Jango or Boba Fett, with the home in question being Kamino[/hl]. And the fact that Mara locks eyes with him in something akin to recognition seems significant too; if my guess above is right, [hl=black]that would fit well with her origins in Mandalorian space,[/hl] and it could take this story in some very interesting directions. Much here to file away in my mind for later! [face_thinking]
     
  20. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    What an update! First this long meeting of Obi-Wan with Maul, that reminded me of a walk through a mine field. And then the chat between Anakin & Obi-Wan, concerning so many important issues. And in the end you showed us the teaching of the young ones, with Red still suffering in a bad place inside her own mind somehow.
     
  21. Darth_Drachonus

    Darth_Drachonus Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Oct 4, 2005
  22. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    While reading An Old Song Re-Sung I saw that there was a mention of an Anakin & Mara story taking place in the same AU... and then I saw this story's title and of course I had to come over here and read. You can count me in for the ride, I absolutely love what you posted so far!

    Poor little Red/Mara! Even in this universe where Sidious was defeated, she still falls victim to him. It's interesting that she instantly latches onto Anakin, who went through an experience so similar to hers. I wonder to what extent this is out of a sense of kinship or if it's all part of some evil plan on behalf of the Sheevster.

    The scene with Padmé, Ahsoka and the clones had me laughing out loud. That little kid is going to have an awful lot of middle names [face_laugh] But first Padmé needs to find the right time to tell her husband, and with everything that's going on that's not likely to be tomorrow. I know already from reading the other story that this pregnancy story will have a happy end, but I'm curious how you're going to take us there.

    The Kenobi/Maul scene was perfect: the tea, the game, the dialogue, the constant sense of threat... and everything that Maul left unsaid, because it's clear that he knows more, or can at least guess more, than he's willing to admit. I am soooo ready for more of this. Obi-Wan will piece this puzzle together, I have no doubt about that, and again I'm curious to see how you take us there.

    And who is this mystery man in the temple gardens, and why is he staring at little Red? I do not like him one bit and I can't wait to see how he is uncovered for the sheeving spy he certainly is!
     
  23. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    *looking sheepish, the author walks in and blows dust off of the thread*

    Wow, now that was a bit more of a gap between updates than I ever want to have again! Hello, dear readers, and surprise! I actually have an update for you. But, in good news, I think that my muse has finally found its stride, and I have the rest of this plotted out to the end now and I'm ready to write. I can't wait to share where this story goes. :D [face_mischief]

    For @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha, @Findswoman, @Chyntuck, @Cowgirl Jedi 1701, @AzureAngel2, and @Darth_Drachonus, I have to thank you so much for leaving your thoughts on the last update! I've come back to reread your comments many times, and your encouragement is a good part of the reason I want to finish this story. I will get back to leaving proper replies when I don't have months long furloughs between updates. I don't plan on letting that happen again. :p :oops:

    I thank you guys for handing in there with me, and I hope that you enjoy this next installment. [:D]



    OoOoO


    IV
    There were a thousand cases of missing female, human children from the Mav'morut sector within Red's age group alone. There were an additional two thousand from the nearest habitable planets in Mandalore's territory, and another thousand from the formerly Separatist occupied space that butted up against its borders. Further out, there were hundreds more from the nearest Republic worlds, but those were on the fringes of his search; he didn’t expect those to yield the results he sought. And yet, those staggering numbers were only after their list was narrowed down to cases of outright child-theft - there were untold millions of war orphans and refugee children left without homes as result of their conflict. The destructive tidal wave of war had washed over soldiers and civilians alike, and trillions upon trillions in the galaxy were still trying to make sense of their losses. However, for those children who had parents to stand up and accuse a thief in the night, of them -

    Grimly, Anakin went through the list and tried to match Red with the files on the holographic display. He was having no luck, and he was soon going to have to widen his parameters again. Yet, if Red didn’t have an advocate, or, at the very least, a record of her disappearance, her origins could very well remain a mystery. All of their digging could be for naught, in the end.

    But that was a possibility Anakin refused to accept until he exhausted all of his resources, and he most certainly wouldn't throw away the chance that, by unlocking Red's past, they could find a way to Sidious, as well.

    A way to Sidious - that thought lit a low, vengeful spark of anticipation deep within the shadowed corners of his psyche. As best he could, he breathed in deep with his darker emotions and released them with his next exhale – endeavoring to maintain the flame of his anger as righteous and just without the selfish undertow of vengeance pulling him under and down. Such was an emotion that belonged to that other time, the reality of his nightmares, and he would not - could not, entertain that in his here and now. Not if he wanted to continue down the path he’d won for himself.

    So, for the time being, he simply grit his teeth, and continued his search.

    Sitting across from him, Padawan Dume's eyes were narrowed to stare at his portion of the list. His mouth cut a grim line into his face, and a low, matching pulse of roused ire churned deep within his spirit. For the seemingly unending list of lost children, he too felt a rise of indignation that he couldn’t wholly release into the Force; not in full; not for this.

    “There are so many missing,” Caleb muttered, more to himself than to Anakin. He hardly blinked as he watched the sad line-up of missing faces parade across the holo-projector.

    “War does that to families,” Anakin’s jaw tightened to acknowledge. “The Secession Crisis aside, these numbers are usually all too high, even in times of peace.”

    In some ways, it was a sheltered life that the Jedi once lived: cloistered in the shining upper spires of Coruscant and safe within the hallowed walls of the Temple. Sometimes, Anakin had to remind himself that what he saw on Tatooine before he was nine was more than what most Jedi were exposed to in an entire lifetime. For the vast majority, they simply had the inability to comprehend life away from their structured little corner of the galaxy – not out of arrogance, but simply from ignorance.

    Yet, now – and especially for Caleb’s generation, perhaps that was no longer an accurate summation. Not nearly. “I know the consequences of war; I’ve seen them firsthand,” Caleb was quick – perhaps overly so, to remind him. “I've been in the thick of this conflict, just the same as you.”

    For the overly combative response, Anakin felt an amused expression threaten to break out and betray him. Instead of letting his thoughts show, he tucked in the corners of his mouth and raised a brow in honest curiosity. At first, he hadn’t understood Depa's decision to leave her apprentice behind to help them unravel the mystery of Red – but now, he thought he was beginning to.

    “Yet . . .” Caleb hedged, his cheeks flushing as he tempered his words – already understanding his need to do so before Anakin could even think to correct him, “it is different on the front lines. It's . . . soldiers. Droids. Us.”

    It wasn't families and civilians; not if they could help it.

    Anakin sighed, and felt a heavy, tired feeling tighten across his chest. Just Jedi and clones and droids, wasn't that all? Their casualties were still unbearably high – so may lives had been lost, all because one man had a selfish hunger for power that had too long gone unchecked. It was unacceptable, even before civilian losses were tallied and compiled within that number.

    “It does makes me wonder what things will be like when the war is over, though,” Caleb continued. His voice turned soft, and he fiddled with the ‘pad in his hands. “I don't remember what it was like to be a Jedi before the war,” he confessed. “It's . . . foreign, in a way, considering what will happen to us next.”

    “Oh, there's always plenty of excitement for a Jedi, war or no war,” Anakin recalled enough of his own apprenticeship to admit in all honesty. “There are always interplanetary disputes and diplomatic squabbles that we are requested to oversee, and oftentimes resolve outright – the fight for peace will never truly end.”

    “No, I suppose not,” Caleb agreed with him, his eyes brightening. He was pleased to hear his assurance – pleased, but clearly trying not to be.

    So, Anakin leaned back in his seat and made no secret of critically studying the senior apprentice. Finally, he commented outright: “You’ve really found your place out there, haven't you?”

    For that, Caleb’s face flushed – a tellingly dark color against the already bronze shade of his cheeks. He ducked his gaze away to stare at his screen, but Anakin doubted that he truly saw a thing. “I . . . I suppose I have,” he admitted. “Master Billaba . . . the 408th – Styles and Grey and Big-Mouth and Soot . . . they're more than just my team. They're . . .” but faltered before looking up again, as to better share his thoughts with his eyes rather than his words.

    “Now, they’re like family?” Anakin gently concluded. They were family - home, he better knew. But, even in the here and now, that was a tricky subject for many Jedi – especially for Master Billaba’s apprentice. He’d have to let Caleb breach that subject first.

    “Well . . . I suppose,” awkwardly, Caleb shrugged. He didn’t want to admit it outright, but Anakin knew he'd struck his mark. “Maybe – a little bit, anyway.”

    Anakin fought to keep his expression serene - he didn’t want Caleb to feel like he was being teased for his emotions, especially as honest and natural as they were. Caleb had found a place to belong in the war, and it was understandable that he was uneasy about that place being taken away from him. That was yet another reason to add to the hundreds of arguments against children being allowed to command the front-lines. It didn’t matter if they were Jedi children or not; each and every one of them had a good deal of their innocence stolen from them, all too early in their lives, and the Force mourned for its loss.

    Yet, what was done was done, and it was now time for them to pick up the pieces of their actions as best they could.

    “I still miss the 501st,” by then, Anakin was at peace with himself enough to confess his attachment openly. “It's weird too, not having Ahsoka around every day – even years later.” As always, it was a bittersweet mixture of pride and longing that swelled from his heart at the thought of the woman Ahsoka had grown into – just as he suspected he’d feel when the twins were both adults with paths of their own to follow. And, oh, how he knew the missing places amongst his men; he remembered each and every fallen soldier, and mourned their passing more than anyone but Padmè would ever know. He still saw too many of their faces when he was unable to sleep at night – the irony of it was almost laughable: a former slave, leading a purchased army of shackled soldiers to keep the innocents of the Republic from knowing a similar such fate. Sidious’ machinations had been thought out to the last detail, and Anakin was still dealing with the repercussions of their – of his, actions.

    . . . but that too was a reason why peace-keepers were little fit for the ways of war – no matter that Anakin had never wholly thought of himself that way before.

    “It just . . . ” Caleb struggled to put his thoughts into words, “it doesn't feel proper to have found my place on the battlefield. It feels . . . ” but what words were there for what he had lived through – for what he had seen and survived, even before entering the age of his majority? He faltered, but couldn't immediately continue.

    “You're not lacking in any way, Caleb,” Anakin shook his head to counter the unspoken. “To be a Jedi is to know empathy; your compassion only means that you are in touch with the Living Force – which is never a bad thing.”

    “Empathy is one thing, but – attachment?” Caleb crinkled his nose as if the word left a bad taste in his mouth. “I am supposed to serve the Republic selflessly; I am a vessel for the Force to be used on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. What I want, what I feel, has no place; my dwelling on my own feelings is nothing more than selfishness and vanity . . . and it shouldn’t matter. I should be stronger than letting it matter.”

    His words were recited out of an initiate’s textbook; there was no real heart behind them. And he could see where Caleb’s self-perceived failures were tormenting him.

    “I think that the capacity to care for those who you defend, and for you to develop a bond with your comrades, only makes you a better servant of the Force and the Republic,” Anakin shrugged. He wasn’t able to agree with Caleb in whole – not any more. “The finer points of Jedi doctrine are still up for debate by those with more wisdom than we’ll ever have – but I suppose you know my place in that argument.”

    It had been an outright scandal – the revelation of his wife and children alongside his title of Knight and General, and Caleb knew that. The kid blushed so easily at the reminder – too easily; he was going to have to work on that, Anakin felt his mouth turn sharp to observe. Yet . . .

    “Is there something else on your mind, Caleb?” he finally asked outright. Beyond thoughts of the future, there was something churning deep within his mind in agitated waves. Anakin could feel the Force push at him, ever eager to restore balance, and he knew that he had to ask.

    Caleb’s eyes widened for his insight, and he quickly darted his gaze away as if to keep him from divining anything more than that. “No,” he answered – perhaps with too much force to be believable. “Well – yes, actually,” he amended. “I mean . . .” but he sighed, and abandoned pretending at apathy in order to reach up and scrub his hands over his face. “I don’t know.”

    Patiently, Anakin waited. The tiny faces floating over the holo-table continued to march by with a slow, solemn precision until -

    - Caleb took in a deep breath, and exhaled. It was a clear struggle, but he found his center. “I've just recently heard from my mother,” he confessed. “She left a message for me – it’s my first time hearing from her since I was a little kid. She stopped sending me messages on my lifeday years ago when the Temple . . . discouraged her habit.”

    In reply, Anakin was quiet, and waited for him to speak.

    “My father . . . he didn't survive the war,” for that, Caleb swallowed, but his words did not tremble. He looked far too confused for grief – as if his heart was telling him that he should mourn, but his mind was far too displaced from its roots to feel any more pain than a passing acknowledgment for his loss. “But my mother and my sister made it out of Morellia alive. With the Reconstruction Act, and the changes within the Order itself, they want to meet me. I . . . I didn't even know that I had a sister. And, now . . . I can know both of them. They’re right there, just waiting for me – that is, if I decide I want a relationship with my family.”

    But he faltered, and looked up at Anakin with something that was almost pleading lurking behind the pale, green-blue of his eyes. He’d already said as much as he could say.

    “This sounds like quite the opportunity for you,” Anakin carefully replied. “Should you choose to take it, of course.”

    That was not, he thought, the response Caleb wanted to hear. “I suppose,” he shrugged. “But the Temple has always been my home; I’ve never wondered about my family beyond the Jedi. The Force, and my place in it, is all I need. I’m content.”

    Liar, Anakin thought, but did not say. Instead, he simply stared at the younger man for a long, long moment.

    “Or . . . I have spent so long trying to convince myself that’s true, at least,” but Caleb surprised him to amend before Anakin could challenge his words. He was honest with himself, Anakin was impressed to notice – or, at the very least, he was trying his best to be. “I’ve always felt like less than a Jedi whenever I’d wonder about them. I know how privileged I am, to live the life I’ve led – thinking about my blood family always made me feel selfish. But now I have a chance to meet them – one that even the Council approves of . . . and I don't know what to feel. I’ve spent so long trying to feel one way that, now . . . ”

    After those last few words, the teenager looked perfectly miserable for his confession. As if spent by his speech, he hunched over in his seat and folded his arms on the table. If Anakin wasn’t there, he suspected that Caleb would have given into his frustrated emotions and slumped over to rest his head down completely in defeat. But he had too much dignity in the presence of an elder Jedi – especially one of Anakin’s strength and legend, for that.

    But Anakin understood why Depa had left Caleb behind on Ossus then. Old softie, he wanted to huff. Depa Billaba may have been a traditionalist, but she had a wide heart, and she clearly cared for her Padawan – she cared for him even beyond her own ideas of how the Jedi Order should be structured and ran, at that. If this was what Caleb needed . . .

    “What does your Master say?” Anakin asked, curious then.

    “She says to trust my instincts,” Caleb made a face. “But I don't know what my instincts are! She's just so vague sometimes. I wish that she would just say what she means to say, and make all of this easier on me.”

    “That sounds like a trademark line of Masters,” Anakin smirked, doing his best to lighten the mood. “I can remember Obi-Wan telling me much the same, and I’ve used the phrase more than my fair share with Ahsoka. Don't worry – in time, you'll be using it too.”

    “Great,” Caleb rolled his eyes. “There’s a thought - I can't wait to drag an apprentice into this mess.”

    But, the moment’s levity worked. Anakin could still feel a depression of confusion guilt longing churn in the Force, but it didn’t feel so deeply pressed; it no longer had the ability to sting. He breathed in deep, and probed with his immaterial senses along that sense of longing – and there he felt where hope and yearning and an instinctual love were already opening their eyes as if waking up from a long sleep. Anakin only had to give him a nudge in the right direction, and he was confident that those seeds would bloom.

    “It's a wonderful, terrifying thing – a family of flesh and blood,” Anakin finally said outright. He infused his voice with his own truth, and hoped that Caleb took only the best from his words. “Family is more than the one you’re born into, true – it’s who you decide to include, like your Master and your men. But don't cut yourself off from this opportunity just because you feel like you shouldn't have it. Trust yourself, and trust the Force. Meditate, and take your time to make your decision – you don’t have to figure everything out right now. You’re putting too much on your shoulders – just take a moment and breathe.”

    Caleb was listening to him, at the very least. Almost too literally, he drew in a slow, deep breath to calm the turbulence of his emotions. Anakin felt that same confusion guilt longing soar – but, then, it no longer felt quite so overwhelming. “Okay . . . I will,” finally, he exhaled. “Thank-you, Master Skywalker . . . your advice has really helped.”

    “Don't sound so surprised by that,” Anakin rolled his eyes, and used the Force to playfully swat at the youth’s shoulder in a mock reprimand. “I have my moments of wisdom too, you know.”

    “Of course, Master Skywalker,” Caleb demurred, but his eyes sparkled with an impish mirth – bellying the solemnity of his words. At the very least, the smile tugging on his mouth didn’t seem quite as forced then.

    In reply, Anakin only huffed – cheeky Padawans were unfortunately more common than not, he’d come to find. The Force had a taste of its own, he suspected. Yet . . .

    “We're getting nowhere with this,” he sighed in frustration and tapped a command to dissolve the flashing line-up of missing children. “If Red was here, we’d have found her by now.”

    Caleb tilted his head, and thoughtfully reached up to stroke the bare stubble on his chin as they returned to the matter at hand. Then, hesitantly he offered: “I've been thinking – maybe we are looking at this the wrong way? Is there a way to narrow down the missing children to those who are Force sensitive - even when not given to the Jedi for training?”

    That . . . wasn’t a bad idea. Anakin narrowed his eyes, and then picked up his ‘pad again.

    “If we’re right about this, and she wasn’t just displaced on Orayaim, Mandalorians are notoriously private about their innermost affairs,” he worked the problem aloud. “About a subject as delicate as this, they are even more so. It got better during Satine's reign, the cooperation between our cultures, but especially outside of planet Mandalore itself, her influence over the clans was far from absolute. A good many of the Mandalorian worlds just continued on living the same as they had for centuries. If they’ve kept any records of the sort, they won't be easily available to the Republic.”

    He watched Caleb’s brow furrow to consider their options. Anakin already had a ghost of an idea of how to proceed himself, but he was curious for the conclusions he would reach. Patiently, he waited.

    “Maybe . . . we could contact the local missing child investigations directly? We could start with the ones in the Mav'morut sector,” Caleb was not deterred in the least for the challenge presented by the Mandalorians’ reticence. “If we were to offer our assistance in their search – here.”

    Caleb flicked a system over from his ‘pad so that it appeared on the middle of the holo-table between them. He’d called up one of the more established planets in the sector, where a number of the missing children were those their own notes suspected to be Force sensitives. Concord Dawn – the name struck a cord deep within Anakin, and he narrowed his eyes.

    “The leading Journeyman Protector on a collection of several cases suspected to be interconnected is a woman name Cerar Dral,” Caleb read aloud. “That could be a good place to start – seeing if she knows anything? It doesn’t matter if Concord Dawn doesn’t trust the Jedi – this is about their missing children. That has to encourage some sort of cooperation, wouldn’t you think?”

    “Well, it's an idea – and as good a place to start as any,” Anakin inclined his head. The Force was pressing against him for this, urging him to act, and he well knew to trust his premonitions by then. If they were lucky, this could lead them to a home for Red – and even onwards to Sidious himself. He felt something feral bare its fangs in his spirit, and he had to tighten his hands into fists to keep a leash on the Force as it suddenly leaped up to his aid in answer to the turbulence of his emotions.

    “So, we have a lead?” Caleb’s eyes were bright for his idea being so honestly considered and then agreed with outright. Pride danced across his spirit, further easing it from the maelstrom of his earlier emotions. Depa, Anakin acknowledged again, was clever in knowing exactly what her apprentice needed, and providing it for him.

    I have a lead,” even so, Anakin could not help but add. “From you, I need to ask a favor.”

    “What kind of a favor?” still high on the crest of his success, Caleb was clearly eager to assist in any way he could.

    “I need you to pick up Red and the twins from the crèche while I present this idea to the Council. I can't exactly take off to Mandalorian space without some careful political maneuvering. Ideally, I need Concord Dawn to extend an invitation to me – and if anyone can grant me that, maybe Obi-Wan can. It's worth a shot, at least; anything is better than showing up unannounced on their doorstep.”

    Just like that, Caleb’s face fell. “Pick up the younglings?” he crinkled his nose to repeat. “You want me to babysit, you mean?”

    “Babysit?” Anakin thoughtfully tapped his chin. “Well, I suppose you could call it that - from a certain point of view.”

    “Is that also a line all Masters know?” Caleb grumbled as he slumped back in his seat, disappointment pinching his expression. Anakin suspected that he just barely refrained from throwing his hands in the air outright.

    “Well, only the good ones,” Anakin winked. “But in all seriousness – you're a familiar face to Red, and she trusts you as much as she does anyone. If I'm not there, I need to send someone she knows. Can you do that for me?”

    In the end, that was all it took for Caleb to sober. “Of course,” he sat up straight in his seat again. “Anything for Red.”

    “Thank-you, I appreciate it,” Anakin smiled, and they made quick work of picking up their ‘pads and powering down the holo-table. As they worked, he could feel Caleb’s more disquieting thoughts creep back up to dominate the forefront of his mind – they’d never really let him rest until the issue was resolved, he knew. As much as he could, Anakin would not let that stand, not if he could say anything to help ease his burden.

    “Caleb – most of what you feel is never wrong,” Anakin had one last piece of wisdom to share in parting. “Only actions have the potential to be so, do you understand?”

    Caleb couldn’t wholly meet his eyes, nor was he able to speak in reply. Instead, he just nodded his head in acknowledgment, and concentrated on his breathing.

    “Good,” Anakin rested his organic hand on the youth’s shoulder. “You're a fine young Padawan, Caleb Dume, and, someday you will make an exceptional Knight. I can sense it.”

    “Thank-you, Master Skywalker,” Caleb managed in a rough voice. But when he looked up his eyes were grateful. Anakin could still feel that storm of confusion longing guilt brewing deep within his spirit, but, at the very least, he thought that his longing was posed to win that war. If Caleb would only allow it, Anakin truly believed that emotion - and all those attached to it - could bear positive fruit. Yet, for that, only time would tell.

    Anakin squeezed his shoulder one last time, and then turned to leave.



    .

    .

    Outside the Temple walls, it was hot and humid in the wake of the summer storms. Even the short length of his hair felt heavy, and wayward strands kept slipping loose from his Padawan’s tail. The scant facial hair he was attempting to grow on his chin itched miserably, while his tunic stuck to his neck and under his arms in a clammy embrace. Ossus was almost unbearably muggy during the monsoon season – a condition that had certainly never been a problem at the old Jedi Temple with Coruscant’s artificially controlled atmosphere. He hadn’t been planetside on Ossus enough to yet acclimate himself to the new Temple, and the differences from what he'd grown with and known as to what now was were glaring. Everything was changing.

    Yet, worse than the heat and his discomfort, Caleb found that he was restless in his skin, and unable to enjoy the more beautiful aspects that came with the tropical heat. He’d never much cared for siting still – even as an initiate, long before Master Billaba took him as her apprentice. Since achieving the rank of Padawan, he’d been in near constant motion; he hadn’t stopped or slowed down in years. It didn’t matter that the war was now technically winding down to a close, to his heart, he wondered if the Crisis would ever completely be over. He’d found a purpose and a calling on the front-lines – now, what did peace mean to a soldier? He couldn’t wholly wrap his mind around the idea, and, if he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to wrap his mind around the idea. Shamefully, he thought that he should better know what peace meant to a Jedi, but . . . he didn’t. Not quite; not in full.

    Distantly, he wished that he was back with his battalion - with his troops and his Master, where he belonged. They didn't need him, not really, Caleb knew – but he was starting to suspect that he needed them. His self-awareness was not a revelation he much cared to acknowledge . . . not in the slightest.

    For the turmoil plaguing his thoughts, he huffed out a breath and tried his best to clear his mind. He was far from a paragon of Jedi serenity just then, and he was tired of being frustrated by his own shortcomings. He didn’t want to think about the end of the war or thoughts of the future just then; he was tired of going around in circles, even if just within the privacy of his own mind. Instead, he glanced down to where Red was sitting on the bench next to him. The little girl was sitting very, very still, and her big green eyes were trained on the rest of the younglings as they played a game of chase. There was a floating orb that, in the way of children, they were all trying to catch with a set of rules only they knew. She followed their progress without blinking, her eyes eerily somber when juxtaposed with the youthful hoots and hollers bursting out from the happy children across the green.

    Looking at her, Caleb felt a pang interrupt his own attempts for stillness. I have a sister who's just a little older than you, he thought but did not say. I have an opportunity to know her – if I reach out and take it, that is. I can know my mother too . . . I don’t even remember what she looks like, I don't remember the sound of her voice, but . . . I can now – if I decide I want to.

    It felt . . . selfish, in a way, to want to ignore those bonds entirely when this little girl belonged to no one – at least, not yet; not that they knew of. The war had torn so many families apart, and for Caleb to want to duck away and hide from his own biological kin . . . the Force tugged at him for his thoughts, but, try though he might, he couldn’t even begin to understand what the ancient presence was trying to tell him. His own reservations and doubts had turned the path before him shadowed and uncertain, and he hated his loss of clarity. He missed the transparency of an enemy on one side, and his Master and troops alongside him where he knew was right – there, he hadn’t known these plaguing questions. Instead, he’d just known the mission, and the thrill of victory for the freedom their struggles ensured for so many.

    With those thoughts never far from the forefront of his consciousness, Caleb wanted to linger on Ossus even less – which was why he suspected Master Billaba had left him behind in the first place. She wanted him to clear his mind, and to do so she felt that this was where he needed to be.

    Caleb sighed for the thought, and tried to shift his shoulders so that his tunic wouldn’t stick to his skin, but he was fighting a losing battle.

    The children, at least, didn’t seem to find anything uncomfortable with the muggy summer’s day. When Luke stumbled trying to outrun his twin for the orb they were both chasing, Red perked up as if she would leap down from the bench and rush over to him. Her mouth opened, and for a breathless moment, Caleb thought that she would speak. But she pressed her lips into a thin line again, and settled back down in her seat without moving. Caleb fancied that he could hear the tell-tale pounding of her heart, even with the space between them, and pity finally moved him to speak.

    “Do you want to play?” he finally asked her outright – gesturing to where the pink skinned Zeltron girl was trying to outrun a human boy with dusky skin and dark blue hair. Luke and Leia were fast on their heels to follow the orb, and all were giggling with carefree delight. If at all possible, he wanted that for Red too.

    “I think it’d be good for you,” Caleb added – even as Luke paused and looked their way to wave, as if instinctively understanding that Red was trying to reach a decision of whether or not to join their game. The little boy was grass stained and muddy from his fall, but his eyes were bright with joy – such a simple, easy joy. At her age, Red should have been able to experience that too; she was too young to know such a somber mistrust for the world.

    Red tilted her head, and bit her lip as if to consider his words. She was smart, Caleb suspected – sharply so. Just because she was mute didn't mean that she wasn't thinking, and thinking fast.

    “It would make Master Skywalker happy to see you playing,” Caleb gently cajoled. He felt that he was there, right there on the edge of convincing her. “And he'll be here soon – at any moment, even.”

    “Red, come and play with us!” unconsciously punctuating his words, Leia stopped to yell over at them.

    “Ezra and Rhysa promised not to use the Force, 'ara!” Luke added. “You should come!”

    “And you want to join them,” Caleb winked down at her. “Go on, it's safe here – I won't let anything happen to you.”

    Red looked torn – her verdant eyes were blown pitifully wide to glance between Caleb and the other children, and her lower lip trembled before she took in a deep breath and seemed to hold it.

    “I promise, you’re safe here,” he repeated again. “Go on,” he waved a hand to coax, even as the kids began to speak together to convince her – even Rhysa and Ezra were urging her to join their game. She’d already made fast friends, even without wholly realizing it herself.

    It felt like any other victory on the front-lines when Red slipped off the bench, and, only pausing to look back his way one last time, she darted off on light feet to join the others.

    Caleb felt a thrill of success thrum through him – in just that one small way, he had done his part to help the little girl. Between that and his work with Master Skywalker earlier, maybe Master Billaba would let him come back to where he belonged. His time on the front-lines was dwindling, and he didn’t have much time left with them before their unit was disbanded completely. Everything would change then.

    His thoughts took him while he continued to pay half a mind to the children. Without the Force, the orb was just a ball like any other, and they tossed it back and forth between themselves as they darted into the jungle and then out again as their game grew beyond its initial parameters. Their running and shouting bore the formless goals of childhood, and the exact nature of the game was admittedly lost on him. But they were happy, and that was all that mattered. He let their high pitched voices drone out in the background, and took that moment to try and meditate to clear his mind – and he was somewhat successful until a group of full-fledged Knights arrived to hold their daily saber practice out on the green to his left. With an almost eager leap to his heart, he found his gaze drawn to them – the ease and symmetry of their initial warm-ups stole his attention, and in that split second he was distracted -

    “Ack, blast it all!”

    “Get out of here, you little scamp!”


    “Master Dume!” a third, nearly identical voice complained, “your youngling -”

    Startled, Caleb whipped back around to return his attention to the children – or, rather, the child who had thought to take a direct route through the garden beds rather than go around the obstacle in his path. He had looked away for one second, Caleb glowered – how was that even enough time to get into trouble? The clone tending the flowers was definitely cross, and glaring at the retreating child as if ready to defend his plants from any further harm.

    “ - he's not my youngling,” Caleb huffed to roll his eyes. “Ezra!” even so, he yelled after the child. “Stay out of the flowerbeds – you know better!”

    He got the barest of acknowledgments from Ezra – who was now holding the orb close to his chest and being chased by all of the other children in unison. He narrowed his eyes, not trusting the boy in the slightest.

    “I’m sorry, trooper,” Caleb turned back to the disgruntled clone, who was muttering to rearrange the trampled planets as best he could. “They're just . . . rambunctious.”

    “Rambunctious right through my cora-lillies,” the clone complained, and Caleb was reminded of Lieutenant Soot for the gruff likeness. He felt a pang pulse through his heart as the gardener knelt down, while two of his brothers hovered almost protectively at his back to flank him. No flowers, Caleb thought, had ever had such studious protectors as those cora-lillies. There was a fourth clone standing further out in the bed, watching the children run by with a careful, thoughtful stillness to his gaze.

    “It won't happen again,” Caleb promised – and then turned to level a glare at Ezra when it looked like he was about to repeat his path again, clone guards or not. He channeled his best impersonation of Master Billaba, and at the last possible moment Ezra changed his course to instead veer towards the wild verge of the jungle. Leia was on his heels in pursuit, and almost tackled him outright – which would have brought Caleb great joy to see. The girl was fast; Ezra, in the end, wouldn’t stand a chance, Caleb suspected.

    Even so: “Someday, some Master is going to have their hands full with that one,” Caleb ran a hand through his hair. His pony-tail was a mess by then, and he was about to give up trying to keep it tamed.

    “I wouldn’t worry about it too much, sir - the best shinies are the ones with some fire in them,” the only clone there with scars on his face - who had clearly seen battle - said. “He'll do alright in the end.”

    “Sure, he'll be okay – as long as he doesn't run through Dres' flowers again,” the third clone laughed to comment.

    Dres, Caleb assumed, muttered under his breath as his scowl deepened, but he didn't bother to contradict his brother outright. Still standing apart from their little group, the fourth clone continued to stare at the children as they ran for the jungle. Although he didn’t have any obvious tattoos or scars, just from that look alone, Caleb assumed that he’d seen battle - no matter that he seemed to be just as young as the two fresh-from-Kamino gardeners, the ones that were born too late to have ever walked the front-lines.

    That was curious, a part of Caleb acknowledged, but he didn’t pay the oddity any more thought than that as he returned to his bench to keep a better eye on the younglings. For a while, all was peaceful, and Exra didn't try to repeat his course again. Yet, the longer he sat there, the more his eyes were drawn back to the Knights’ saber classes. Watching them move on from their initial katas to honest to goodness sparring, he knew that he was itching to join. It had been too long since he attended a proper Temple class. For months – years, really – he’d only sparred with his Master, or with General Tano when she had a moment to spare from the 501st.

    With his thoughts still churning – hyper focusing on the end of the war and his impending Knighthood and his mother father sister – he was about to walk over and ask if he could join for a round. Anything was better, he felt, than just sitting there and waiting for Master Skywalker to return. He needed movement to distract him.

    Caleb had only just stood, and his back was on the children for little more than a moment when he felt a quiver thrum through the Force – the vibration turned to a rattling sensation deep within his bones, and a blinding, yellow spike of fear erupted across his senses until, suddenly, the feeling snapped and there was nothing.

    Before he could even wholly process what, exactly, the Force was telling him, that tell-tale burst of danger had him turning on his heel, a hand already falling to the hilt of his saber even as a familiar young voice - Rhysa, the Zeltron girl - screamed from the line of the trees: “Padawan Dume!”

    “Padawan Dume!”
    Ezra’s voice was highly pitched with fear to echo Rhysa’s call. “You need to come quick!”

    He was already running – darting into the jungle to where the children had gone far deeper than he first realized, all the while knowing, with a dawning sense of dread that, by the time he got there he would be too late.



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2018
  24. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Exquisite characterizations and wisdom mixed with wry humor and candor. Then :eek: What was THAT? [face_worried]
     
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  25. Darth_Drachonus

    Darth_Drachonus Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Oct 4, 2005
    I had almost forgotten this existed, so glad you finally made your way back around to it!
     
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