I'm Counting On You (PG-13)

By : Julie

Archived on: Monday, July 1, 2002

At age fourteen, Anakin Skywalker has learned and suffered much during his first year as a Padawan. Now he must face a greater challenge - regaining Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's trust. Sequel to "If I Don't Catch You" and "I Won't Fail You". You must read those stories to fully understand this one.

Dedicated to my wonderful brother, Jonathan, who suddenly gave me a new monitor and wouldn't let me pay him for it. :)

Anakin Skywalker dismally stood on the ship's platform staring out at a typical Coruscant morning. The cheery sun glinted off the polished ships that filled the skylanes. The expanse of metal towers was no more appealing than the dunes of Tatooine had been, but at least all the activity gave him something to watch.

I really don't like this. Anakin did his best not to let his anxiety show on his face. Who am I kidding? I absolutely hate this.

Anakin gave up trying to look strong and just sulked. He knew he deserved this after his behavior on their last mission. Outright disobeying your masters on your very first mission with them was unheard of and for Anakin it had been a colossal mistake that had nearly ended with his death. He'd hoped that perhaps the Council would decide that his suffering at the hands of a Sith would be considered punishment enough. But no, until it was decided that he was trustworthy enough to obey, Anakin would not be allowed to leave the Jedi Temple.

And now Master Qui-Gon was bidding them both farewell, leaving on a mission without either of them. And what was worse, Obi-Wan would be doing the same thing in a few short weeks. Leaving him alone..

"It will be over before you know it, Ani," Qui-Gon responded to the teenager's mood and the reason behind it.

Obi-Wan put his hand on Anakin's shoulder. "I don't like it either," Obi-Wan murmured. "And you aren't making this any easier on yourself, Ani."

"I know," Anakin mumbled. "But he's leaving now! He won't be here when the Council interrogates me!"

The two of them watched sorrowfully as the sleek Republic ship took off. Obi-Wan sighed. Anakin looked at him waiting for a reply. Obi-Wan is probably dreading having to cope with me alone. He's always had Master Qui-Gon to help keep me out of trouble before.

"You know neither of us may defend you, Anakin," Obi-Wan reminded him.

"I don't see why I have to face them alone."

"You will be fine, Ani. They just want to hear what you remember of the Sith actions and what the Sith told you. The Council will not judge you."

Anakin looked at him askance. "It doesn't feel that way."

"Don't worry about it. You've stood up to the Council several times before."

"Yeah," Anakin answered. "But I hadn't done something wrong those times!"

"The Council will not even discuss that, Ani. The purpose of this session is only to determine what goals the Sith may have concerning you."

"And to make sure I'm not buying into it," Anakin smarted back.

Obi-Wan looked at him coolly, but did not reply. He didn't need to. Anakin blanched.

"I'm sorry, Master," Anakin slumped. I really need to keep my mouth shut. The last thing I need to do is drive off my only ally currently at the Temple.

"Ani, the Council members know you better now that they have each instructed you. They will not be so quick to think the worst of you."

Yoda will, Anakin thought wryly.

"Not even Master Yoda," Obi-Wan finished.

Oh, I'm glad I didn't say that out loud.

Anakin nearly tripped as he entered the apartment. He looked down at the dangerous object in annoyance.

"Kaely! Quit running in front of people's feet! You'll be crushed."

The tiny pink droid pretended not to hear him and continued speeding around on the floor and back under the sofa she'd shot out from under. She darted around the room whistling and peeping under the furniture. Anakin trudged quietly to his room to collect his lesson assignments for the day.

Anakin paused to look at the book of old Jedi prophecies lying on his desk. No, now is really not a good time to read the rest of it. If I even think about that today, the Council will find out and Obi-Wan will be in big trouble for giving it to me. Too risky.

He returned to the main room with his datapad and a stack of datacards and began working. Kaely tried to get his attention by bumping his boots and whizzing around the low table he was sitting by. After trying to ignore her antics for several minutes, Anakin finally gave in and picked her up.

"You want up here?" he asked and placed Kaely on the tabletop. She chirped her thanks and began examining the cards he hadn't used yet. After a moment she emitted a puzzled beep.

"Huh? What?"

The little droid waved the card she was holding in her grasping arm and twittered again. Finally, by using the Force, Anakin managed to grasp what she was saying.

"I know its lunch time. But I have to go meet the Council this afternoon, so I'm doing my lessons now instead."

Kaely flashed her little yellow eyes and whistled again at him.

"I know, but I'll be fine. And anyway, if I don't do it now I won't have any time to work on fixing your repulsor lifts."

Kaely squealed with glee and began to hum a quiet but cheerful tune to herself.

Anakin quietly walked alone into the Jedi Council Chamber. It was the first time the whole Council had seen him since Anakin was rushed to the infirmary just two weeks before. A few had managed to visit him while he was recovering from his surgery and after his dip in the bacta tank, but even they were surprised when Anakin approached.

Anakin Skywalker's whole being was actually passive. They had worried that his abduction and torture by the Sith would antagonize, anger, and spur him to vengeance. Or even worse make Anakin over-confident, after all, he had killed one of the Sith.

Instead, his capture had apparently resulted in a dramatic change and they were unprepared for the docile teenager who stood before them. His normal brash attitude and cool self-assuredness was gone. The entire Council gave a collective mental sigh of relief. They had spent the last week debating over what they would do with a reckless and dangerous Anakin Skywalker, yet they never reached a decision. So now the Council was stuck with a new dilemma. What to do with a humble Anakin Skywalker and how to keep him that way?

"How are you feeling, Anakin?" Mace Windu asked him kindly.

"Much better, sir," Anakin answered meekly. His whole demeanor was despondent.

"We'd like you to tell us everything you remember about the Sith's actions and what they said after you entered the ship."

With great trepidation, Anakin began to relate what had happened. "I was hit from behind in the cockpit. I never sensed her attack at all. I don't know how long I was out, but I do know that she drugged me. When I woke up I tried to leave the ship's cabin she'd put me in. But the Sith beat me until I passed out."

In almost a whisper he said, "She probably killed the other pilot."

Anakin's voice had grown softer and softer. Realizing this he took a deep breath and plunged onward, "Everything after that is very blurry. I don't think she drugged me again. She didn't need to. She put pressure on my mind and fogged me up so much I could barely concentrate."

Master Tiin leaned forward. "What about your mental shields?"

Anakin stiffened and his voice was strained as he answered, "They weren't good enough. I remember waking up several times, and trying to heal myself, but each time I became too aware, she'd lash out at my mind and I'd pass out again."

"Did you attempt to leave the room again?" Master Depa asked softly.

"No, ma'am."

"As this happened, how felt you?"

The look Anakin gave Yoda held none of the brazen impudence that the Council had come to expect from the boy. Rather Anakin was contrite and subdued.

"I was very confused, and I kept feeling like I was doing the same things over and over. Which now I know I was. I never got a chance to get past realizing why I was in pain before the Sith would attack again."

Anakin waited for the inevitable response. This is the perfect place for Master Yoda to say, 'About this, how feel you now?" Anakin thought glumly. Yoda, without fail, took every opportunity to test or question Anakin. But to his great surprise, the old Jedi Master seemed to take pity on him and remained silent.

"What do you remember next?" Eeth Koth inquired.

"I woke in that strange cell. It was completely dark and I felt awful."

Mace leaned forward in his chair. "Were you able to heal yourself then?"

"I," Anakin paused to take a deep breath. "I didn't really try much. I was too tired. But I was able to walk a little, but then I had other things to worry about."

"Like what?"

"I couldn't sense anything outside of the cell at first, I couldn't even tell how thick the walls were. Kaely found the only door, which was in the ceiling. And -"

Anakin lost his voice again. But the Council waited patiently for him to continue. The teenager's stress and nervousness rolled out from him in waves.

"And then I realized that all of my mental shields were down for the first time. I couldn't remember when they'd fallen, or even how. But what bothered me most was that it took so long for me to notice."

"Did you escape then?" Depa's soft voice was somewhat soothing.

"No, I didn't get a chance." Anakin paused and frowned. "That's when the Sith came."

"What did she say to you?" Mace prompted him.

"This time it was a man's voice." Anakin's frown deepened. "I think that maybe it was a different person?" He looked at Mace in confusion.

"That is likely. We do know that there were two Sith inside when we arrived," Mace answered.

"What did he say to you?" Ki-Adi Mundi asked repeating Master Windu's question.

"He rambled on about a lot of things. He said that I was going to be his apprentice. I told him I wasn't. And then after that I tried to ignore him and refused to answer anymore. Eventually he gave up talking."

Anakin waited and hoped that they would accept his response and move onward. However, Yoda wasn't going to let him evade the question.

"All his words, we must know."

This was what Anakin had been both dreading and hoping for. I want to tell them. I really do. I need to know! However, Anakin was afraid of what response the Council would give him. Over the last month, he had done his best to avoid even thinking about it. But when he heard the Sith say those exact same words and make those terrible claims it had shaken Anakin to the core of his being.

Taking another deep breath, Anakin did his best to answer them in a calm voice. "He called me the Chosen One."

The reaction of the Council was more than Anakin expected. Not only did they all tense up and a few gasped in shock, but Yoda actually looked stunned. Over the past year, Anakin had surprised each of the Council members so many times it had almost become a game. But today it wasn't funny.

If this bothers them so much then it must.... Anakin didn't dare finish his thought.

The Jedi Masters still didn't answer. They must be talking to each other telepathically. Will they actually explain what this whole 'Chosen One' stuff means or will they avoid the question? They really don't want to tell me, do I even want to know why?

Anakin thought about what else that Sith had said and cringed. They have just got to tell me. I don't want to believe that guy is right, but what if he is?

"Said more of this, the Sith did?" Yoda's voice was strained.

Anakin tried to relax. If they thought what I just told them was a shock, they will keel over when I say this.

Anakin composed his words carefully. "He also said, 'a balance is achieved by two powers opposite one another. How can you bring balance to the Force if you only know the Jedi way? It is impossible.'"

Anakin shifted his feet slightly and settled for a long wait. The Jedi certainly were taking their time silently discussing it. As the minutes grew longer, he began to worry, What if they just send me out of the chamber? It could be days before they decide what to tell me! I wish I could hear what they are saying to each other.

That idle thought caught his interest. Nah, it wouldn't work. They'd sense me trying to snoop and not only would I never hear anything, I'd be in big trouble. He suppressed a sigh. I've messed up enough lately. And like Obi-Wan said, I don't need to make things worse for myself.

Anakin watched as Yoda's eyes seemed to glaze over and the other Jedi focused intently on each other. I can almost tell who is arguing with who just by the Force resonance their communications leave behind.

Anakin concentrated on Yoda's presence in the Force, waiting for a responding sensation from one of the other Council members to try to guess who he was talking to. Anakin knew that Yoda didn't like him and seemed to disagree with everything he wanted. Anakin waited and felt the response come from Adi Gallia, Odd. She usually agrees with Master Yoda.

Again the tiny vibration in the Force came from Yoda, and this time a different sensation came from Yaddle. Ah ha! Anakin was delighted as he learned to identify which impression was which. Master Yaddle always takes my side.

As the time grew longer and longer, Anakin became less worried that they would send him out without explaining and more worried that they'd make him wait where he was all afternoon. The Force could only hold one up so long and already his legs were beginning to ache. Trying to ignore it, Anakin continued to watch the holo-ball match going on around him. So far it looked like four definitely agreed with Yoda, three completely disagreed, and the other four he wasn't sure about. Maybe they are still undecided.

Undecided about what? Anakin mused. The Council could be debating about what to tell him or what to not tell him. Or perhaps whether or not the Sith was right. I don't want him to be right. That guy was creepy, his old apprentice almost killed Master Qui-Gon and his new one tried to cut my arm off. And then after I killed Darth Edacaf, her master nearly killed me. I don't want anything to do with him.

Anakin shifted his feet again. This patience thing is getting really hard.


He looked up at Master Depa Billaba.

"You look pale." She directed her words more to Anakin, but looked at Mace Windu.

Yup, they are going to send me out.

"The remainder of your report must wait for another day," Mace said, dismissing him.

"Yes, sir." Anakin bowed dutifully and began to walk out of the chamber. Just as he passed the doors Master Yaddle spoke up.

"Well, he is not," she said firmly and hopped off of her chair.

She wasn't the only one to get up, but despite her short legs and being the farthest away, she reached Anakin first. He was kneeling in the hall where she'd sensed he'd stumbled and fallen. The small Jedi Master put one of her tiny three fingered hands on his shoulder.


He tried to look up at her but his eyes refused to focus. Anakin slumped unconscious to the floor as a wave of dizziness hit him.

Master Healer An-Paj looked up in surprise as Mace Windu entered into the infirmary carrying Anakin. His patient had been doing well and improving greatly after he'd released him from the Healer Ward a week ago. The blue healer hadn't expected to see Anakin again until his next check up in two days.

Master Windu walked calmly to him and An-Paj could perceive that the boy was not in pain or visibly injured. Just out cold. From the entrance, a few of the other Council members stood waiting.

"He passed out in the hall," Mace explained as the healer led him to an empty examination table. He placed Anakin on it and stepped back with a grim expression on his face. "We have already called Obi-Wan."

An-Paj worked quickly and efficiently to determine the cause while Mace retreated to the waiting room. Anakin was very pale, but was breathing normally. Just as the healer submitted a blood sample into the medical terminal for testing, Anakin stirred.

"Anakin, open your eyes."

Squinting, Anakin obeyed. He looked around him in confusion for a moment before trying to sit up. Master An-Paj helped to steady him.

"What have you been doing today?"

"Not much," Anakin muttered. "I haven't been over-exercising or anything like that."

Master An-Paj's antenna twitched in puzzlement. "Then why are you so exhausted?"

The boy shrugged off the question. "I didn't sleep well last night."

Master An-Paj was unconvinced. Taking a look at the terminal's readout of Anakin's vital signs and test results he frowned. He sat down and began to call up more information and typed in a code.

"You didn't eat lunch today did you?"

A faint look of guilt crossed Anakin's face. "No, sir. I didn't"

"I'll return in a moment, Anakin." An-Paj stood up and left to talk to the Jedi Masters waiting outside.

When An-Paj returned to the waiting room, only Obi-Wan was there. The young Knight was sitting calmly in a meditative state. He slowly opened his eyes as he sensed the healer approach and he then stood up.

"Hello Master An-Paj."

"Good afternoon, Obi-Wan," An-Paj returned pleasantly. "Your Padawan will be fine."

The blue healer glanced around the empty room in a silent question.

"I told the Council I'd inform them if Anakin was seriously ill," Obi-Wan explained. "I didn't sense any danger to Ani."

"You are correct. Anakin is not ill, yet." An-Paj pursed his lips in mild irritation. "He is exhausted, dehydrated, and has not eaten in the last 24 hours."

An exasperated look crossed Obi-Wan's face briefly before he calmed himself. "That shouldn't have happened. He did arise early this morning, but I assumed he'd made his own breakfast when he didn't join Qui-Gon and I."

"Anakin is very troubled about something today, surely it wasn't just this questioning by the Council?"

Obi-Wan shook his head, "Normally that would be so, Anakin is never daunted by the Council. However, today's session was very different and Qui-Gon's departure only made things worse."

"He left on a mission without either of you?" An-Paj frowned in surprise.

"And I will leave in a week," Obi-Wan told him soberly.

"Without Anakin."

Obi-Wan only nodded. An-Paj's face was equally grim, but he understood the reasons.

"I must remember to admonish the Council for not noticing, until after they'd made Anakin stand for hours, that he was unwell," An-Paj declared as he lead Obi-Wan to Anakin's examination room.

The terminal was still activated. Out of boredom, Anakin slid off the table and sat at the view screen. On the display was a list of his vital statistics that An-Paj had recorded. Though he recognized most of the words, he didn't understand what the numbers beside each name meant. Idly, scrolling through the computer terminal's menu controls he found an option to check his statistics against an average human Padawan.

Ah, this is really good for the healer Padawans when they are learning to treat others. Choosing the correct species and age he watched as a second list of numbers appeared beside his statistics. This is neat! Anakin scrolled through this list looking for what didn't match up. Blood pressure, blood sugar level, iron level, midi-chlorian count....

"I heard Yoda talk about midi-chlorians, and I was wondering, what are midi-chlorians?"

Qui-Gon looked down at the small nine year old boy, "Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force."

"They live inside of me?"

"In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians."


"Symbionts. Life-forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force."

The memory shook Anakin as he gazed at the numbers on the screen in front of him.

Normal midi-chlorian count for a human Jedi: 13,000 to 17,000

Midi-chlorian count of Anakin Skywalker: 24,000

Anakin suddenly remembered to breathe. He began combing through the menu, looking for anything about midi-chlorians he could find. Anakin didn't let himself think about whether or not he should be doing this. As he divulged deeper in to the system he never gave a second thought to the fact that Master An-Paj had used his own code to access the more secure sections of the database. And that he had trusted a Jedi Padawan would not even think to take advantage of it.

As it was a medical terminal, it had access to a staggering array of information, much of which Anakin had no way of understanding. But the search option was very helpful when he asked for the highest midi-chlorian counts ever recorded.

His name was at the top of the list, by a wide margin.


The teenager spun around in the chair, but his eyes showed that he refused to be ashamed of his actions. So intent on his search, Anakin hadn't noticed the Master Healer return with Obi-Wan. It didn't take An-Paj more than a second to see what had occurred. Obi-Wan looked grim and waited for An-Paj to explain.

"Anakin, you are not allowed to know your midi-chlorian count, yet."

"I hear that said a lot, you know," A haunted look crept into Anakin's eyes as he began quoting the words he had heard far too many times. "Ani, you aren't permitted to know how to do that yet. You should not have learned this now. That was something you should not have heard about. You should not be capable of doing this yet. Know this, you should not!"

Anakin gave an irritated snort and looked balefully at Master An-Paj and Obi-Wan. "Can you at least tell me why I'm not allowed to know?"

The Master Healer gazed sadly at the frustrated and angry teenager, but had no response he could give. Anakin could sense Obi-Wan's emotions in an upheaval through their training bond.

Anakin nodded. "I didn't think so."

"Padawans are not permitted to know until knighthood. Its not just you." Obi-Wan turned to the blue healer. "His punishment for breaking into your files is your decision, Master An-Paj."

"Anakin must rest for the remainder of the day. I will call you tomorrow about it. Will you be informing the Council or would you rather I did?" An-Paj asked.

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan and waited anxiously for his answer.

"I will tell them."

Obi-Wan looked at his Padawan curiously. Anakin was actually cheerful about his return from the infirmary. Noticing Obi-Wan's feeling of puzzlement through the training bond, Anakin grinned smugly.

"Yes," the teenager said. "I don't mind my punishment."

"You aren't just saying that because you are done for today, are you?"

"Nope! I'm looking forward to going back tomorrow."

Obi-Wan stared at him. It was the truth. Anakin was happy and truly content with the consequences of his behavior yesterday.

"I had no idea you enjoyed emptying bedpans and scrubbing floors, Ani," Obi-Wan said while looking at him askance.

Anakin tried not to roll his eyes. "Its not as degrading as some of the other stuff I've had to do in the past."

When Obi-Wan didn't answer, Anakin did roll his eyes. "Would you rather I acted all sulky and mad? Aren't I supposed to be accepting and calm? And anyway, its not like I don't deserve it."

Staring at him, the only response Obi-Wan could think of was, "I am pleased that your attitude has improved."

Anakin smiled serenely and continued to follow him.

"But I know you are hiding something," Obi-Wan added suddenly.

Anakin put on his best innocent expression. Obi-Wan suddenly stopped outside one of the training rooms. Anakin looked at the door and then back at him in dismay.

"Master...," Anakin began frowning at the sparring room in front of them. Anakin hadn't fought with a lightsaber since his gruesome duel with a Sith and had been dreading this part of his training for a week.

"Yes, you must train," Obi-Wan said. "That Sith nearly killed you, despite your skill in Force-shielding, Ani."

Anakin sighed dismally and followed him into the room.

"And if you'd fought better with your lightsaber you might have actually had a chance to escape."

Anakin cringed at the stern tone of Obi-Wan's voice.

"Ani," Obi-Wan continued to lecture, but in a softer tone. "We almost lost you. So far, you have given at best only half-hearted efforts towards your saber training. Qui-Gon and I have let you and for that, I apologize. From now on your training will focus primarily on lightsaber fighting."

Anakin's head was bowed and his eyes didn't look from the floor. "What about my recovery from my injuries?"

"We'll be careful not to overstress your heart. However, we both know you have nearly returned to full health and the remainder of your time recuperating will be just a cover story."

Anakin could not disguise his wince. I really do regret disobeying. And I'm sure I'll never do it again! I've learned my lesson. He thought irritably. But is only reply was, "Yes, Master."

"Now, since you currently are still recovering, today you can limit practicing to only your katas. However, tomorrow we will begin working in earnest."

"Yes, Master."

"Good morning, Master An-Paj!"

The Jedi Healer glanced up at the blond head looking inside his office doorway. "A pleasant morning to you as well, Padawan Skywalker."

Anakin smiled brightly and continued down the hallway with his bucket and mop. An-Paj listened as the teenager called out greetings to every healer and Padawan he saw as he made his way down the corridor. Like the day before, they answered him with puzzled replies. Obi-Wan had warned him that Anakin's suspicious behavior had not changed after he left the infirmary the day before. And here An-Paj could see that if anything, it had increased.

A loud squeal of delight echoed suddenly thorough out the hall.

"Anakin!" A very boisterous female voice yelled.

Anakin Skywalker did an excellent impression of a nerf in front of landspeeder lights. He froze as a trio of girls practically danced over to him. The instinct to run was very hard to fight.

Fighting the urge to flee, Anakin instead put on a broad, fake smile and waved at the girls. Just keep on walking, ladies. Go right past me, please!

The cyan-haired girl stopped right in front of him and gave Anakin the distinct impression that she would have hugged him if she could have gotten away with it. The other two were close behind her and they all began talking at once.

"Where have you been?"

"Are you feeling better now?"

"Everyone's noticed you never come to the Dining Hall anymore."

"Will you be at Swim Club tomorrow?"

"Whoa," Anakin broke in. "Slow down. I'm recovering okay, but I have to do chores here for awhile."

The girl with the curly blue hair eyed the mop in his hand. "Whatever did you do to get bucket duty?"

"Poked around where I didn't belong."

"Well that's a relief," the redhead said with a sigh.

"Yes," the Twi'lek gushed. "We were beginning to think you were avoiding everyone!"

Anakin smiled brightly. "Well, I have to get back to work!"

"Oh, we can help you get done faster!"

"Thank you, but I have to work here all afternoon."

"Are you sure?"

The girls truly looked disappointed. Anakin gave them what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I do appreciate the offer. See you later."

"Bye, Ani!"

Anakin carefully concealed his wince as all three girls loudly chorused their farewell and left the infirmary giggling about it.

"Is cleaning the floor is more appealing than being with your friends?"

Anakin turned around to see An-Paj standing behind him. The teenager shrugged his shoulders and hoisted his buckets.

"It is for now."

An-Paj was disturbed at the forlorn tone of Anakin's voice. "You cannot avoid them forever, Anakin."

"Yes, sir. I know." Anakin moved past him down the hall, "I just need time to think of how to explain things without really telling them what happened." Grimacing, he mumbled, "Like the Council and my Masters want me to."

Anakin stood outside of the closed door. He wanted to leave and he wanted to hide. However, he wasn't allowed to do either. Obi-Wan had given him a direct order.

Earlier that morning...

"Master, please -"

"No, Ani. This has gone on long enough, you must face this."

"I just need a little more time."

"You've had weeks. If you haven't determined how to handle it best by now then you are not going to. And yes, An-Paj told me about how you've been using your chores in the infirmary as an excuse to completely avoid everyone. What were you planning to do when your punishment was over? Absurdly disobey again or intentionally injure yourself just to keep away from your friends?"

As Obi-Wan continued to lecture in an exasperated tone, Anakin's eyes never left the floor.

"You need to talk to them, and to get past this today. You will go to the Padawan's Dining Hall and you will stay there long enough to eat an entire meal. Sneaking in and out is not an option."

"Yes, Master."

I really wish I knew how to make myself invisible. Anakin continued to stare at the door. Why is this so hard? Just pull the handle! he berated himself.

Suddenly, Anakin tensed up. He could sense a few Padawans approaching the other side of the door. As they came closer and closer, Anakin could only stand frozen in place. He knew he couldn't hide and he couldn't leave.

The door shook.

"Huh?" a muffled voice said through the doorway.

"What's wrong?" another asked.

"The door's jammed."

"Let me try."

The whole framework jostled slightly as a strong Padawan pushed on the door with the Force.

"It's really stuck."

"Maybe they are going to get rid of this exit and make it part of the wall?"

Anakin gave a quiet sigh of relief as he felt the teenagers leave to go to another door out of the Dining Hall.

You coward, Anakin growled irritably to himself. Holding the door shut so they couldn't see you was just idiotic.

Anakin once again resumed gazing blearily at the doors. I wish Kaely were here. She'd fuss at me and just pull it open and then I'd have to walk in and get it over with. But Kaely couldn't fly again yet and so was still in the apartment.

Again, Anakin felt people coming to the door. He tried not to do anything. With all his might he held back. And when he sensed them about to touch the door....

I am so pathetic.

Miserably, Anakin waited as he sensed the second group also walk away in confusion. If someone would just come down this corridor to enter the Dining Hall, then I wouldn't keep driving myself crazy like this.

Initially, Anakin had thought it would be a good idea to wait until the last minute to go to lunch. He'd hoped that by then most of the Padawans would be finished and leaving. That way he'd only have a few dozen to contend with. But now he wondered if arriving early would have been better. Nah, they wouldn't have let me leave and then everyone would have gotten a chance to attack me.

Steeling himself, Anakin slowly pulled the door towards him and peeked inside. The normal roar of the crowd didn't change rhythm, so Anakin slipped around the edge. Hugging the wall he tried his best to go unnoticed. This was not an easy feat when most of the people around him were sitting and Anakin happened to be rather tall for his age.

Of course it didn't work. Between squeals from the girls and loud yells from the boys and a variety of alien sounds, Anakin thought his ears would burst. Before he knew what was happening both of his arms had been grabbed and he was practically dragged to a table and gently but firmly placed in a chair.

I'm doomed!

The noise really was deafening as everyone was asking questions at the same time. Anakin's first friend at the Temple, Elbaima, wove his way through the mass around him. He saw Anakin's face grow redder and redder in mortification and decided to take action. The dusky toned boy clamored up on the table and quietly gestured for silence.

It took a few minutes for the excited teenagers to realize that Anakin wasn't going to answer them. They finally began to reduce their babbling enough for Elbaima to actually speak.

"That's enough. Anakin doesn't need to be stampeded."

Anakin tried not to smile at the looks of embarrassment that crossed the nearest teenagers' faces. He glanced up in surprise as Elbaima stepped off the table and all eyes returned to him. The room went dead silent.

"Well, I." Anakin paused to keep his voice steady. "I am doing better. I was stabbed pretty badly on my last mission with my masters. I'll be stuck here for awhile until Master An-Paj says I'm healthy enough to go on missions again."

Instantly, the rush of questions resumed. If Anakin could have crawled away he would have. They wanted details. Lots of details. And that was the one thing he was not allowed to do. The Council had absolutely forbidden him from telling anyone about those Sith, or to even refer to an evil Force-user. Naturally, that meant he couldn't tell them that he was stabbed by a lightsaber either. To Anakin's relief, they had ordered him to not tell anyone that he had been kidnapped at all.

The crowd quieted somewhat as several people began asking one identical question, "What was that glowing you did?"

Anakin very carefully schooled his features. This was a question he'd been expecting for over a month. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had taken him on a mission the day after his glowing incident in this very Dining Hall, so the Padawans never got a chance to ask him. Anakin had plenty of time to mull over this on the ship and during the long, boring days on their mission. And a week and half before while lying in bed after his surgery, he'd again thought about what they would say and what answers would satisfy them.

For all that time, Anakin had never found a way. And so, he decided to just play dumb. In his most nonchalant tone Anakin answered the eager audience.

"Oh, that. I don't know why that happened. It was very strange."

Again they barraged him, wanting him to explain how he felt, if it hurt, and what he remembered about it. If I could, I'd just tell them I don't remember much. That would get rid of them, but that's not true, I remember it all too perfectly.

The roar reduced to a mild rumble abruptly as one voice rose above the others. "Give him some space! He didn't come here to be interrogated."

Once again the crowd backed down, however this time it wasn't Elbaima who came to Anakin's rescue. It was the very last person Anakin wanted to see, Lavir Ruoy.

Anakin looked up as the young man approached him through the sea of Padawans. As he expected, they all moved to let him through without even thinking. Anakin watched him with distrust and well-founded suspicion. Especially when he saw the small pin attached to Lavir's Padawan braid. Its green metal glinted under the Dining Hall's lights.

He is still running the Elite, Anakin grumbled to himself. Of course he is! He loves the prestige and power it gives him over the rest of us. He wouldn't be able to cope without it.

That last thought made Anakin cringe. It was a painful reminder of how he'd obtained that information. Waves of guilt assaulted him as he recalled the memories and private thoughts he'd seen in Lavir's mind while the older Padawan was unconscious and unable to defend himself during that glowing episode.

The nineteen year old stopped and looked over the eager crowd haughtily. "You've asked your questions and Anakin has answered. Now, as he is still recuperating, he doesn't need the lot of you buzzing around him in this fashion."

"And someone fetch him a lunch, he came here to eat, after all," Lavir's command set everyone in motion. Most of them had finished eating and left, while the rest loudly returned to their own tables.

Elbaima sighed in relief. "Thank you Lavir. Crowd control is not one of my strong points."

Anakin looked at Elbaima in surprise, Even though he did get rid of everyone, there is no way I'm going to thank Lavir.

"Anytime," Lavir replied graciously. "If you don't mind, Elbaima, I'd like to speak alone with Anakin for a few minutes."

Anakin opened his mouth to object, but his friend was quicker. "Certainly," Elbaima said after he turned to give Anakin a smile. "I'm glad you are back again, Anakin. I'll see you later."

Anakin seethed. Lavir did it again, and I just let him.

While Anakin was trying to think of something to say that wouldn't come out as a growl, two Padawans approached. They eagarly brought him a tray over flowing with a bit of nearly everything being served. Anakin did his best to thank them politely and to not look dismayed when they left.

"Now," Lavir began when the others were out of hearing range. "I have a proposition for you."

"I'm not joining the Elite and that's final," Anakin replied sourly.

"I am aware you have no intention of changing your mind, but that is not what I've come for."

Anakin shoved the food on his plate irritably as he waited for Lavir to finish pausing dramatically. He does it pique his audience's curiosity. In the past when he has just gotten to the point, it didn't always sway who ever he was trying to convince. Anakin gulped as he realized he was relying on his ill-gotten knowledge again. I've got to be careful.

"I would like," Lavir resumed, "to spar with you on a regular basis, say twice a week or so. And later when you've fully recovered, every day when we both are not off on missions."

Anakin's jaw dropped. The audacity of this guy is really getting on my nerves! Anakin looked Lavir straight in the eye and said, "No."

"I'm sure your masters would agree that you would benefit from sparing with other Padawans."

"Master Obi-Wan wouldn't." Anakin smirked and then stopped as he thought more about it. Actually, Obi-Wan might, I need a better excuse.

"And besides," Anakin continued, "its no use talking about it now. I can't do anything that strenuous for a while."

Lavir gave him a sly look. "Really? Your master has sparred lightly with you every morning for the past three days."

"Are you spying on me now?" Anakin growled.

"No," Lavir replied loftily. "I just happenedWhile Obi-Wan gathered his things, preparing for his trip, to walk by that particular training room to reach the one my master and I usually use. The sign showing that your master reserved it is hanging outside in plain view for anyone to read."

With a glare, Anakin grabbed his half-eaten tray and stormed away. He was more than a little relieved that the older Padawan didn't follow and pester him further. When Lavir wants to know something, he finds out. Usually by sticking his Elite on the job if he can't do it. I'll have to be very careful. For the first time, Anakin did not regret that he had peeked into Lavir's mind over a month ago.

"So, how did it go?" Obi-Wan asked as Anakin hurried along the corridor to keep up with him.

"Exactly as I expected it to," Anakin grumbled.

Obi-Wan decided not to comment on the boy's sour expression. "They really mobbed you?"

"Yes," Anakin replied curtly.

While Obi-Wan gathered his things, preparing for his trip, Kaely buzzed over their heads, reveling in her new repulsor lifts. She'd been miserable while reduced to just running on her wheels for the past week after Obi-Wan had only partially repaired her. In gratitude, she hadn't tormented Obi-Wan the whole week. Though she had pestered Anakin incessantly to make her fly again.

Anakin was frowning heavily and brooding. Obi-Wan sighed as he realized that cheering his Padawan up would be a battle. "You'll be fine. And besides, I'm sure your friends will help you. And I'm sure Padawan Ecin will enjoy sparring with you. You really do need to practice dueling with other Padawans."

Anakin stared at his master's back in irritation. Well, I'd suspected he would think that was a good idea.

"And Qui-Gon will likely return before I do," Obi-Wan continued. "So, be prepared. He will expect you to have spent your time focused on your lightsaber practice."

Obi-Wan glanced backward at Anakin and the teenager quickly schooled his expression from the disgruntled frown to a look of thoughtfulness.

"Obi-Wan," Anakin said as nonchalantly as he could, "have you sparred with any of the Padawans only a few years older than I am?"

"No, why do you ask?"

"Just curious. I know that the ones really good at dueling will usually spar with knights and masters who happen to be passing through the Temple. You know, to improve their skills."

"Are you trying to say you want to spar against -"

"No," Anakin interrupted quickly. That's not what I meant at all! "I'm just worried about having to fight the older Padawans in the big Dueling Competition in a few months. I don't want to, well..."

"You'll do fine, Ani," Obi-Wan said reassuringly. His placid face suddenly brightened, "You should spar with the older Padawans during the times Qui-Gon and I aren't here. It would be good for you."

Anakin's jaw dropped. I should have kept my mouth shut and not given him ideas! "Uh, I can just spar with Elbaima Ecin. He's two years older than I."

"Yes. However, you are equally matched. You need to practice more with those who are better than you as well."

Their conversation ceased as they exited the building and walked onto an outdoor landing platform. On it was one ship, prepped and ready for take off. Anakin stared at it like it was a rancor and Obi-Wan just sighed. Anakin normally kept a good reign on his anger, but today he didn't bother to even try.

"Don't say it won't be long," Anakin said through gritted teeth. "Weeks are not a short time to me."

"I'll miss you, Padawan."

As the sleek ship took off, Anakin sat on the landing pad's deck in misery with only Kaely for company. He didn't move to go back inside for a long time.

Once again, Anakin stood anxiously waiting on a landing platform. However, this time he wasn't staring at the deck in agony, but at the sky watching for a ship. In his excitement, Anakin had come an hour earlier than Qui-Gon was to arrive.

Almost, just a little bit longer. Anakin squinted at the sky and pulled on the training bond. I can feel him! Master Qui-Gon's ship will descend into the atmosphere over the Pihs Tower.

For the past three weeks, Anakin's every thought and action had been overshadowed by his yearning for his masters to come home. Though he was living with his friend Elbaima and his master, Anakin spent little time with them. Anakin had practiced lightsaber fighting with him, but most of the day Elbaima was being trained by his master.

At first, Anakin had been pleased that Obi-Wan had not asked another Knight or Master to drill him in Force exercises while he was absent. Instead, he'd only instructed Anakin to practice his Force-exercises each morning focusing on saber katas.

I thought it would sorta be like a vacation. And it was at first, but I just got fed up with nothing interesting to do.

Anakin had intended to enjoy his spare time tinkering with his droid pieces and devising new attachments for Kaely. But his mind would unexpectedly wander to what his masters might be doing and where they were while he was alone at his worktable. As the days became weeks, Anakin had become completely miserable and not even Kaely could cheer him up. Yet, this morning that changed when he'd received the news that Qui-Gon was coming. It had irked Anakin that they hadn't told him until the day he was to arrive. But after the way he'd annoyed everyone with his impatience, Anakin wasn't surprised.

As Anakin watched the ship land and then Qui-Gon descend the ramp, his grin became broader. Only the presence of two others accompanying him, another master and her Padawan, prevented Anakin from jumping up and waving like a little kid. Qui-Gon spoke briefly with them as they were heading for the door before walking to Anakin.

"Greetings, Ani. You look well," Qui-Gon said with a smile. "Hello, little Kaely."

"I'm glad you're home, Master," Anakin beamed. Kaely cooed sweetly at Qui-Gon and flew to hover by his head as they turned to enter the Temple.

"I am much better," Anakin continued. "I have just one last check-up with the healers."

Anakin glanced anxiously up at Qui-Gon's face, hoping for a response. I know that I'm completely healed and that this last visit to the healers is only so Master An-Paj can be sure that I am. He must know what I want to hear. It's been over a month, surely that is long enough to be restricted to the Temple.

"Do you know when Obi-Wan is likely to return from his mission?"

Qui-Gon's question startled Anakin from his thoughts. "He'll be here tomorrow. He has been gone longer then I expected." Anakin looked wistfully off into space. And so were you.

Qui-Gon didn't comment on Anakin's implied statement. "How have you been?"

"Bored mostly."

Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up. Anakin smirked, but continued. "Not much has happened really. I did finally get the other Padawans to stop pestering me. Hopefully, the gossiping will die down soon."


"Oh, and, um," Anakin stumbled over his words for a moment. "I made a mistake."

His master only waited patiently for him to proceed without comment or prompting him. Of, course he wouldn't make this easier, Anakin sighed to himself.

"I found out what my midi-chlorian count is."

Anakin held his breath. He really had no way of anticipating what Qui-Gon's response might be. Master An-Paj had been disappointed and Obi-Wan had been very irritated. Qui-Gon's stoic expression never faltered and his emotions were locked tight. Odd. Anakin's eyes widened. Isn't he going to say anything?

"And how did you accomplish that?"

Anakin took a deep breath and spoke quickly to get it over with. "I snooped into Master An-Paj's files, and yes, I've already completed my punishment for that. Obi-Wan let Master An-Paj put me to work in the infirmary."

"Sounds fitting." Qui-Gon's voice was still completely emotionless.

"I guess so." A look of confusion passed over Anakin's face. "I really didn't mind it though. The healers do a lot of really neat stuff and when things were dull after Obi-Wan left, I sometimes stopped by to run errands for them."

A burst of something flashed across the training bond too quickly for Anakin to identify. What was that? Anakin stared at his cool and collected master in shock as he glimpsed a fleeting smile disappear from Qui-Gon's face. What is so funny?

"I'm sure Obi-Wan will be very interested to learn that you enjoy visiting the Healer Ward, Anakin."

Qui-Gon's smug tone of voice only puzzled Anakin further. Did I miss a joke?

Before Anakin could ask, Qui-Gon changed the subject. "Have you resumed your lessons with the Council yet?"

"No," Anakin replied curtly.

Master Qui-Gon frowned. "Have they said when they will?"

Anakin shook his head. "None of the Council has talked to me since before Obi-Wan went off on his mission three weeks ago."

Qui-Gon's stride slowed almost to a halt as he stared at Anakin. "How was your report to the Council the day I left?"


Qui-Gon stopped by an entrance to one of the many indoor gardens. Sensing Anakin's irritation and worry, he knew it would be best to stop and talk about this now, rather than wait until they reached the apartment. Anakin followed him in miserably and slumped onto a stone bench. In a strained voice, Anakin began to relate how the Council had reacted to his recollection of the Sith's actions and how they only sent him away without an explanation.

"When Obi-Wan left he thought that they would call me back soon, but they never have!"

As he finished, Anakin felt something in their bond that he had never felt before. Qui-Gon's expression and resonance in the Force was the closest Anakin had ever seen his master come to real fury. He stood up and briskly made his way to the exit. "Come, Ani. They will not continue to avoid you for another moment."

Anakin gawked as Master Qui-Gon breezed past the reception room and boldly shoved open the massive Council chamber doors. Without pausing or bothering to announce himself, Qui-Gon strode right in. The entire Council was assembled to hear from two teams who had just returned to the Temple. They all gazed at Qui-Gon's disruption with mixed reactions ranging from surprise to irritation.

Qui-Gon walked up to the mildly confused Jedi teams standing in the center of the room. "An urgent matter must be addressed."

Mace Windu's schooled features never wavered as he looked at Qui-Gon and then back at the teams. "Thank you for your swift report, Master Tuostuc Iuq, we must hear the remainder of it tomorrow."

The four Jedi quietly left the room, passing where Anakin hovered uncertainly by the entrance. They probably think something really important has happened for Master Qui-Gon to interrupt like that.

Qui-Gon gestured for Anakin to join him. As the doors closed behind him, Anakin scurried into the room to stand beside his master in awe. Wow! I can't believe he did that! I never would have dreamed of storming in here. And I don't think Obi-Wan would have either. He would have talked privately and quietly with Yoda or Mace.

Qui-Gon immediately got to the point. "This has gone on far too long."

"We have not yet determined what information is appropriate to divulge and what to withhold," Mace replied.

"You've had more than a month to discuss this." Qui-Gon's irritated tone conveyed his disapproval plainly.

"This is not an easy matter to decide," Mace retorted.

"If you haven't reached a satisfying conclusion by now, then you are not going to."

Anakin glanced at Qui-Gon sharply as he echoed Obi-Wan's words from three weeks before. Obi-Wan had insisted that Anakin couldn't keep waiting to talk to his friends. Anakin's stalling was useless and wouldn't help at all to continue. It was unnerving, and a little thrilling, to see the Council receive the same lecture.

"He is not prepared to deal with this situation as it is, later however - " Mace tried to explain.

Qui-Gon would not be placated. "Anakin needs to know all of it, now."

Yoda stiffened. "Dangerous that is!"

"And leaving him to speculate on what little he has already learned is not?" Qui-Gon countered.

Anakin did his best not to stare or react as they argued about him. I just want to get this over with.

Anakin sensed that it was time to end this, before his master got in trouble because of him. "Let's try something else," he blurted out.

The masters ceased their intense, but Jedi-like bickering to look at him. It wasn't Anakin's place to interrupt, but then nothing about this impromptu meeting was following protocol. Yoda and Mace in particular gave the impression that they were attempting to stare Anakin down for his outspokenness.

"I'll ask questions and you answer them. That way you don't have to tell me the other things you don't want me to know."

"Some of your questions might be precisely that," Ki-Adi Mundi pointed out.

"If he understands enough to ask the question, then clearly he is not only ready but must need to know the answer," Qui-Gon defended. Anakin smiled as he felt Qui-Gon's approval of his solution to this dispute shine through their training bond.

Mace glanced around the circle listening to the others' telepathic responses before settling back in his chair and clasping his hands together in resignation.


Anakin had to think very carefully. I haven't had any time to prepare and I never thought I ever get a chance to ask them questions now. I've got to be cautious to not give away what Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon let me find out.

"Am I right in just completely assuming that the Sith was lying to me?"

"Yes," Mace promptly replied. "You may ignore everything he said in regard to training you and his claims that you must learn to use the dark side."

Anakin very quietly sighed in relief. Though he tried to hide it, he knew that they all could sense him relax. Oh who cares? They are probably happy that I didn't want to do what that Sith said.

"Where did this whole 'balance the Force' idea come from?"

Mace looked to Anakin's left at Master Yaddle. She cocked her head to one side. "An old prophecy. Collaborated by many Jedi visionaries, it was. For centuries, true we have known it will be. Texts of this I can show you."

"How well known is this prophecy?"

"It is included, with many other predictions, in a class that those in their seventh or eighth year as a Padawan attend," Mace said.

"Perhaps Anakin should attend that class this year," Qui-Gon suggested.

Mace glanced at Yoda, who nodded. "Yes, that would be prudent."

"Also, um..." Anakin began with a hopeful look. "when I have more questions later, you will still answer them, won't you?"

"Yes," Yoda said in an unusually reassuring tone.

"How does the Sith fit into this? I know you all thought that they completely died out a thousand years ago, so what do they have to do with that prophecy?"

Mace looked rather like a schoolteacher about to explain the existence of air or gravity as he answered. "We know that the Chosen One will be the only person capable of vanquishing a great evil. The Sith are the most terrible evil we have ever encountered. Now that they have returned, we feel that it could only refer to them."

"Have any of you had visions of me fighting the Sith?"

"Too difficult to see." Yoda shook his head and looked at Anakin from under his drooping eyelids. "Well hidden the Sith are."

Yeah, I know that. I've been there, seen it, and barely survived to tell about it, Anakin thought sarcastically.

Yoda's eyes suddenly opened fully. "Seen visions of them, have you?"

"No, sir." Anakin was a little startled. "I haven't thought to try."

"Hmmm." Yoda resumed studying the Padawan intently.

Anakin looked suspiciously at the ancient Jedi Master. "How is this balancing supposed to work?"

"There have been many theories over the centuries," Mace replied. "Master Yaddle can supply you with the books about them. They are also discussed in that class."

They don't know the answer, Anakin sighed silently to himself. Why am I not surprised?

"How many of you think I'm this Chosen One, anyway?"

Silence filled the room and Anakin began to feel very exasperated. Well, what are they expecting? Obviously that was one of the things they didn't want me to know now. And from the way Yoda is staring at me, it looks like they didn't think that I'd ever ask it either.

Mace looked from one council member to the other, taking his time, and then turned his attention to Anakin. "Due to recent events, we all are certain that you are the Chosen One," Mace answered.

Anakin frowned.

In the depths of the Jedi Archives, Master Yaddle sorted through the mountains of books in pure delight. Hopping lightly from one perch to the next and up and down ladders, she hunted for one of the many tomes on her list. She hummed lightly to herself as she went about her task. The tuneless song quietly died on her lips as she felt someone approaching.

After a moment of wondering why she couldn't see the being coming towards her yet, she tapped deeper into the Force for the answer. She wasn't sensing someone nearby but rather, someone whose presence shined so brightly she could casually feel him coming even though he was not only outside of the archives, but down the hall as well.

"Ah," Yaddle murmured to herself with a smile.

It was several more minutes before her sharp ears picked up on the voice of the Padawan entering the maze of bookshelves.

"I don't care if it is pretty, I am not giving you a new paint job every week and that's final!"

A tirade of whistles and electronic snorts echoed in the massive room.

"And if you purposely mess it up, I'll let you stay that way for a month before fixing it."

As he made his way around the archives, Yaddle called out to him, "Greetings, Anakin."

Anakin peered around the shelves looking for the owner of the voice. But Yaddle was nowhere in sight. Oh great, she's going to make me find her. Resigning himself, Anakin drew on the Force to determine her location and unexpectedly ran into a mental wall.

What is it with Jedi Masters? They just have to make every situation a lesson to be taught. Ha! More like, 'let's torment the Padawan every chance we get'.

But Anakin had something very useful that most Padawans lacked - a sidekick.

"Kaely," Anakin whispered quietly, "Master Yaddle wants to play hide and seek."

The tiny droid peeped conspiratorially and zoomed away.

Focusing heavily, Anakin let the Force wash over him and drag him along. He had to be careful not to let it carry him away. Anakin had never intentionally allowed the Force to completely control his actions. The only times that ever occurred was during his glowing bouts and he fought those for all he was worth. Anakin was very wary of what might happen if he ever let the Force do what it liked with him.

Master Yaddle's cloaking skill was good, but not good enough. Within a minute, Anakin was able to know what area of the archives she was in even though he couldn't feel her precise location. The only real problem was how to get there. The pattern of bookshelves was very neatly and efficiently laid out near the doors, but as one went deeper it became a labyrinth of twists and turns. When he was forced to turn around and backtrack after running into the third dead-end, Anakin decided to do it the easy way.

Leaping nimbly to the top of the shelf he looked out across the large room. The space between the top books and the ceiling wasn't much. Anakin had to squeeze carefully through to not knock everything off. It was a slow process, but quicker and more efficient than wandering around on the floor.

As he progressed, Anakin became concerned. Where is Kaely? Is she lost?

Without a sound, Anakin's blond head popped into sight over the top edge of the last shelf he had to climb and he stared at the strangest office he'd ever seen. It was in what could have been the center of the room, or the farthest corner; the exact location was impossible to determine, the exits hidden when sitting in the office due to its vantage point. But it did afford a great view of most of the massive archive.)

"Come in," Master Yaddle said as she waved her small three-fingered hand at him.

Anakin complied and glanced around at the furniture perched on top of a wide platform spanning between two bookshelves. Yaddle had a tiny desk with a holo-terminal and cushions to sit on and many, many books stacked around her. Due to the low ceiling, Anakin had to scoot across on his knees. The drop down to the floor looked much farther than it really was.

Sitting on one of the piles of books was Kaely. She trilled in surprise when she noticed Anakin, but quickly returned to playing with a bright, metallic string in her grasping arm.

"Traitor," Anakin mumbled in disgust. "You were supposed to tell me when you found her."

"Defeat the purpose of the exercise, that would." Yaddle looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

Kaely paid her young master no attention and continued to toss the shiny toy that Yaddle had bribed the droid with to gain her silence. As Anakin followed Yaddle back down to the floor, Kaely amused herself by flinging the piece of cord and then zooming to catch it before it hit the ground.

Yaddle slowly led Anakin through the maze and pointed out to him the books he needed. Anakin complied with a somewhat exasperated look on his face. Of course, just have the Padawan do all the fetching and carrying. How convenient.

As the pile grew higher, Anakin was grateful that it hid his expression from the small Jedi Master. It will take months for me to read all this! They are conspiring against me. I know it!

"Last one." Yaddle stopped at the end of a shelf. "Fifth row."

Anakin reached up for a plain dusky orange book resting at the end, but paused. There beside it was another book with a familiar binding in brown. Realizing that it was another copy of the book Obi-Wan gave him for his thirteenth birthday, Anakin picked it up instead.

"Not that one, the orange."

Anakin looked at her in surprise and then back at the large brown book in his hand. He levitated it in front him and picked up the orange book. Unlike the brown, this book had its title emblazoned across its cover.

"The Origins of the Mechanical Tools," Anakin read it aloud. "Why this one instead of the prophecy book?"

Anakin realized his slip and froze. Too late to stop himself, Anakin's face turned red and his emotions betrayed his anxiety and anger at himself for giving away a secret. There was no way that Yaddle wouldn't sense it.

"Read that one before have you?" Her question came across as more of a statement as she looked up at the unmarked prophecy book.

"Yes, ma'am." Anakin steeled himself for her response. Well I tried. I am allowed to know now, so what does it matter that I read it before? If Obi-Wan gets in trouble for this...

"Tell the others I will not. No need now. However," she advised, "more secrets do not keep from us, Anakin."

Anakin could only nod in his relief. He set the prophecy book back on the shelf, but was still puzzled about the orange book. Why would she want me to read this one? He stopped dead in his tracks as the answer came to him.

"You set me up!"

Master Yaddle glanced up at him with a bored expression.

"You already guessed that I'd read it, and you set a trap to make sure," Anakin accused. She probably figured it out when I was asking the Council questions, maybe even earlier. When I asked for that old dictionary months ago, she never did ask me why I needed it!

"Joy in mechanical things you have," Yaddle answered breezily. "Thought that book would interest you, I did."

And I'm supposed to believe that? Ha!

Qui-Gon nearly had to drag Anakin away from the books Master Yaddle gave the boy. Anakin spent every moment of his spare time pouring over them. The first night that Obi-Wan returned, he caught Anakin staying up late to continue reading. Both of them became concerned they might have to threaten to restrict Anakin from the books if he let his other lessons slide.

Anakin's progress in lightsaber dueling had markedly improved and both his masters were pleased at his new appreciation for it, especially since much of the last month he'd not had the benefit of sparring with either of them. At Anakin's final medical check up he'd been given a clean bill of health and the healers were happy to see that his injuries had caused no long term side affects.

"That's enough for today," Qui-Gon said as he helped Anakin up from where he had fallen.

Grateful for the reprieve from training, Anakin walked over to lean against the wall. Qui-Gon's idea of a good sparring match was one that left him exhausted and every muscle aching. While catching his breath, Anakin was surprised to sense Obi-Wan approaching. He had not expected to see Obi-Wan before the evening meal and it was still mid-morning. The young knight wore a grim expression as he strode into the training room.

Picking up on the mood and his masters' behavior, Anakin realized that they wanted to discuss something together before talking to him. It didn't happen often. Usually they planned out what to do ahead of time and there was no need. Just to be polite, Anakin wandered away from them to the water dispenser. Along the way he grabbed a towel to wipe away the sweat pouring off his brow. Discretely, he watched as Obi-Wan handed Qui-Gon a datapad for him to read.

"Anakin," Qui-Gon said. "Obi-Wan and I are being sent on a mission tomorrow."

Anakin stared at them aghast. "It's only been a few days! I thought you were going to be here longer?!"

"So did we, but circumstances have changed," Obi-Wan said. "These two systems are very skittish about outsiders. Since Qui-Gon and I have been to those worlds before and are currently available, it is only logical that we are the best choice to send to clear up this dispute."

"You aren't going to take me with you this time either," Anakin stated flatly.

"It is for the best Ani," Qui-Gon calmly told him.

"Hasn't it been long enough? Or is this just because I was nosy and found out my midi-chlorian count?!"

"No, Ani," Obi-Wan corrected him. "It's not that."

Qui-Gon's soft voice intruded. "I have felt no peace concerning when you should accompany us on missions again."

Anakin's face fell and he looked at Obi-Wan in hope that he would disagree. But Obi-Wan's expression and resolve never wavered.

"Even if you had not done that, Anakin, I feel that we still could not take you with us now. There is something else, indefinable at this time, that must be addressed," Obi-Wan explained.

"And until we know what that is, we feel that taking you out of the Temple would be dangerous." Qui-Gon tried to reassure Anakin. "It is not an issue of trust, but of safety."

"The Force has not yet supplied us with details as to why going would be a danger, Anakin. Only that you must stay for the time being."

Anakin still wasn't convinced, but had no reason to not believe them either. "Why haven't I sensed that going would be a bad idea?"

Obi-Wan tried not to look amused. Anakin groaned as he realized what he'd just said. "Never mind, don't answer that, please!"

What a stupid question... well at least they didn't reply the obvious, 'because we know a lot more about the Force than you do.' And its not like I have a choice in the matter anyway. I suppose I should be glad that they are telling me this much.

"Ani," Qui-Gon said, interrupting his thoughts. "The Council has decided to resume their lessons with you and they will continue your training while we are gone. Your friend and his master are on a mission, so you will not be able to stay with them this time. Therefore, you will reside with one of Council members instead."

"It will only be a week and a half, at most probably two before we return," Obi-Wan said.

A horrible suspicion filled Anakin. "Oh no, not..."

"It will be good for both of you!" Obi-Wan said with fake cheerfulness, trying and failing to persuade him.

Anakin stared. "What have I done to deserve this? Master Yoda does nothing but torment me!"

"As you do to him," Qui-Gon quietly reminded him.

"But why him?! He does nothing but question me and treat me like a specimen to be dissected!"

"Relax. Master Yoda isn't doing this involuntarily, he actually requested it," Obi-Wan added.

"Even worse. He has some terrible torture planned!" Anakin almost wailed.

"You are over-reacting," Qui-Gon said.

"Why can't I stay with one of the others?"

Obi-Wan raised one eyebrow. "Despite your objections, I have no reason to refuse him."

Anakin's face crumpled in misery. I can't believe they are going to make me live with that troll!

"Be calm, this isn't going to hurt you."

For Anakin, watching Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan depart in a ship was no easier this time than the last. This afternoon's departure was much worse. The fourteen year old was sullen, angry and resentful. Anakin made no effort to control those emotions. It was with the greatest reluctance that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan left Anakin. Only the knowledge that while under Yoda's care, Anakin would be safe, allowed them to go on their mission.

It's only a week and a half. It's only a week and a half... Anakin thought over and over again until it became a mantra.

And maybe it will be less! He tried to encourage himself.

Kaely bobbed in the air behind him with uncharacteristic silence. She wasn't happy about the situation either. As they turned down the hall to Yoda's quarters, Anakin tried to compose himself. Knocking on Yoda's door while still angry would just give him more reasons to scold me.

He didn't need to knock or even press the door's chime. The moment Anakin approached the door slid open quietly. The interior wasn't really dim, but it wasn't brightly lit either. It had a typical apartment layout, very similar to his own quarters with his masters. The furniture was all designed for Yoda and unusual lamps hung from the ceiling. All of the glow-panels were off.

Yoda didn't exactly greet Anakin warmly. "Come." The old master hobbled across the floor and pointed. "That room you shall use."

Well, I won't say hello either, Anakin decided and dumped his bag inside the door of the bedroom. It was identical to the way his own room had looked when he first moved in with his masters - plain and empty, with only the barest of necessities.

This was Qui-Gon's room, Anakin suddenly realized. Everyone knew that Yoda had only taught groups of young Initiates for decades. According to Yoda, Qui-Gon had been the last Padawan he'd personally raised to Knighthood. And yet, Yoda hasn't converted this room into something else. It's ready for another student at any time. Odd.

Kaely landed on the empty desk and emitted a quiet moan. Anakin pulled out her writing pad and stylus from his bag.

"Why don't you practice drawing?" he suggested to the droid. Anything to keep her busy and distract her from her worries was a good idea. Anakin was having a hard enough time with his own, much less having to deal with Kaely's.

"Padawan Skywalker."

Anakin rolled his eyes when he heard Yoda's call. Oh great, it's 'Padawan Skywalker' huh? Why am I not surprised? He left his temporary room and returned to the main living area.

Yoda was in the kitchen end and pointed at the table. "Sit."

Without preamble, Yoda ladled two bowls full of stew and brought them to the low table. Anakin watched him out of the corner of his eye and did his best not to react. Other padawans had warned Anakin about Yoda's cooking. It was well known across the Temple. If he thinks for one minute I'm going to cheerfully eat that...

Anakin rose smoothly from his seat on the floor and walked to the small kitchen along the wall. He had to stoop down to reach into the highest row of cabinets. As he rooted around inside them, he felt Yoda looking at him without actually looking at him. Two can play at this game you old troll. Yoda didn't even turn his head in Anakin's direction.

Let's see how you like this! Anakin returned to the table with a handful of small spice boxes and silently began dusting his bowl of gruel with one and waited for Yoda to respond. It didn't take long.

"Good enough, it is."

Just as I expected. Anakin glanced mildly at him, "I like a bit more spice than some people."

Without taking his eyes off of Yoda, Anakin deliberately coated the whole top of the gruel with a second spice.

The insulted look never left Yoda's face. "If dislike it, then say so you should."

Doing his best to imitate Yoda's infuriating coolness, Anakin replied, "I'm supposed to be learning how to be more diplomatic and find a better way out of things."

"Diplomacy, that is not!" Yoda pointed at the pile of spice boxes.

"And besides, why would I give you the satisfaction of punishing me by insulting your cooking?" Anakin said before he could stop himself.

Yoda's eyes reduced to slits.

Oh, well since I've ruined things anyway, there's no reason to hold back now, Anakin decided.

"Didn't any of your Padawans refuse to eat this?"

"Certainly not!"

"Not even Qui-Gon?"

If it was possible, Yoda looked even more affronted.

"Ha! You're really serious?"

"Good apprentices they all were, grumble they never did."

Not where you could hear them, obviously. Well, I'd suspected this place was full of drones, but to hear proof that it's been this way for centuries...

"Learn to appreciate what you are given, you will," Yoda all but threatened.

Anakin was not so easily intimidated. "Or you'll what, make me go to bed without dinner? That's not a problem, I can eat extra at lunch and grab a snack in the afternoon. And if you went as far as to insist I eat this gruel for breakfast too, I'll just find another way around it as well."

Anakin lazily stirred the spices into his bowl of gruel. Give it up, he wanted to tell Yoda. You try to force me and you'll lose.

Instead Anakin challenged Yoda further. "Arguing over food is petty. I wouldn't make you eat something I knew you wouldn't like." Beside the fact that I couldn't anyway.

"Tried it, you haven't."

"Would you if you could avoid it?"

Yoda's hooded eyes bored into him. Anakin glowered right back. Oh, great now I get to have a staring contest with him.

"Learn tolerance," Yoda began to lecture. "Evading what you dislike is not always possible and so accept that, you should."

"I need to learn how to skillfully evade the things I absolutely can not and will not tolerate."

Anakin had a hard time not adding, Like poisonous food or drink. But he knew that, though a relevant example, it would only get him into serious trouble.

"Only a week and a half." Yoda sounded like he was almost muttering to himself, but then he opened his eyes. "Remember that, you should."

"Absolutely," Anakin responded dryly. "It is foremost on my mind."

Anakin stormed down the hall and tried not to look like he was running away from the older Padawan behind him. Despite his efforts, the other teenager was keeping pace easily and was completely undaunted by Anakin's disgust.

"What part of 'no' do you not understand?" Anakin snapped as he darted around a corner.

"Can you give me a more plausible reason for refusing?" Lavir said.

"Plenty." Anakin was still frowning and tried to think of a way to escape. Maybe if I duck into the turbolift and use the Force to 'gently' prevent Lavir from entering?

Just as Anakin reached the turbolift, Lavir tried again. "No spectators!"

Anakin stopped to look back at him skeptically.

"I'm serious," Lavir claimed, answering his unspoken reservations. "No one watching. I won't even tell anyone."

"Not even the Elite?"

"Not even them. Though There isn't as much of that anymore," Lavir added.

Anakin's eyebrows rose. "Is that so?"

"Yes. As your master said, our group is already fading away."

Lavir said it much more eloquently than Obi-Wan had. Anakin still was annoyed. "I haven't seen a difference."

"Well, this isn't something that I can just halt all at once! Not even if I wanted to," Lavir continued stubbornly. "And before you ask, yes I don't want it to end, but it is inevitable."

"Oh, and that's supposed to impress me?"

Lavir ignored him and continued to list his excuses. "If I had tried to shut the Elite down, the others would just interpret it as if I was backing out of the group. And then they would have simply elected a new leader," he explained dramatically waving his hands. "This is the most efficient way to handle it."

"And the only way you can stay in control until the very end," Anakin stated bluntly, seeing through his excuses.

But Lavir didn't react. He instead just gazed calmly at the younger teenager in silence.

"Why do you really want to spar with me?" Anakin asked suspiciously.

"I need a good partner to test my skills against, and to put it simply, I'm running out of challenges. I've learned my friends' and my master's moves too well and can now defeat them all with ease."

Easily defeat them? I doubt it. Though he knew that Lavir was an excellent fighter, Anakin wasn't impressed by the way Lavir exaggerated his skills..

"Contrary to popular opinion, I am not good at lightsaber dueling."

"So you are a bit weak on the forms," Lavir said to brush off Anakin's rebuttal. "You easily make up for it with your acrobatic Force skills and adaptability."

Anakin just shook his head. If I was good at adapting that Sith wouldn't have skewered me. This 'don't tell anyone about the Sith' rule is driving me nuts!

"Do you have any other objections to sparring with me?"

"Not really."

"Then shall we meet here this afternoon?"

Anakin looked at the older Padawan warily and against his better judgment answered, "Very well."

Lavir smiled in satisfaction and left the turbolift alcove in high spirits. Anakin enter the lift and keyed the floor of Yoda's apartment. His thoughts were all in a jumble. I need to stop worrying. After all, if he is a pest or tries to bully me again, I can always just quit. And maybe dueling with him will improve my skills. Wouldn't Obi-Wan and Master Qui-Gon be so surprised!

"Master Yoda?"

The wizened Jedi Master looked up from his reading. Anakin walked over to him and sat on the floor. There were no chairs big enough for Anakin in the apartment except for the one at the desk in his room.

"Do you know Lavir Ruoy?"

"Yes." Yoda blinked lazily. If Anakin wasn't so nervous he would have sensed that Yoda was concealing his surprise that Anakin's more humble and timid attitude had suddenly returned. It was a far cry from the haughty and stubborn boy of yesterday evening.

"He wants me to spar with him every afternoon."

"My approval, you have," Yoda agreed pleasantly. "Want you to practice with the older Padawans, your masters do."

Anakin's worried demeanor didn't change. "I don't like Lavir."

"Then a double lesson it shall be." Yoda looked at him quizzically. "Improve your skill with a saber while improving your diplomacy."

Well, yeah that's true. I need to work on that. Anakin racked his brain for a way to explain the confusion and uncertainty he felt.

"Distress you greatly this does?"

"Yeah," Anakin reluctantly admitted.

"Spar once," Yoda advised. "If still distressed you are, another partner Padawan Ruoy must find."

I can do that. And Lavir won't be able argue about it either. I'll just tell him that I'm not benefiting from practicing against his style or something like that.

With a hint of a relieved smile beginning to form, Anakin hopped up. "Thank you, Master Yoda."

Yoda did a good impression at nodding absently. "Welcome you are." In an excellently faked bored tone he added, "Re-stocked my pantry is, cook for yourself tonight."

Anakin just smirked as he went to fix his dinner.

Anakin trotted down the hall in relief. So far, Yoda's idea of training meant lots of meditation and honing the more mundane skills. The simple exercises were just boring. I could do them in my sleep they require so little concentration. Meditation was another issue all together. Anakin had dutifully sat quietly while the old master meditated, but as of yet Yoda hadn't directly ordered him to meditate. He probably will though.

It was with great relief that Anakin left to attend the class about prophecies that was held in the late morning. Ah, freedom until dinnertime.

The class was held in a lecture hall and was already filling with students. Anakin meandered his way towards the middle rows and quickly claimed a seat. Doing his best to ignore the chatter around him, he focused on the datapad in his hand.


Oh, I knew someone was going to recognize me! Irritably, Anakin looked up at Lavir Ruoy as the nineteen year old sat down in front of him.

Lavir raised one dark eyebrow, "This class is for older Padawans -"

"Yes I know," Anakin interrupted. Leave it to him to try and tell me that I've got the wrong classroom. "I have special permission to be here."

Now isn't this intriguing? Anakin thought lazily as he watched Lavir's reaction.

Lavir did look very curious. "And why were you given that permission?"

"I'm not allowed to say." Anakin bit back a smirk.

Lavir plainly didn't like that answer at all. "So, I hear you are staying with Master Yoda?"

"Yeah, what of it?"

"It must be a great honor."

Anakin shrugged. "And how did you find out?"

"People notice and news gets around. You know how it is."

"Yes, I know how it is."

Anakin didn't get a chance to say more because the instructor arrived. Lavir turned around to face the front of the class and Anakin glared at the back of his head. Yes, I know how it is - you and your little spies.

The voice of the teacher dragged Anakin away from his angry thoughts. She had already begun the lecture.

"To give you an example, we will start with the Lufwa Massacre Prophecy, which was prevented from occurring three centuries ago..."

Later that afternoon, Anakin found himself reluctantly stretching his muscles and limbering up for his lightsaber match with Lavir. Lavir stood at ready with a grin on his face. His lightsaber glowed a deep, forest green. "Which would your prefer to start with? Offense or defense?"

How magnanimous of him to let me choose, Anakin thought sarcastically. In Anakin's only sparring match with Lavir, he had spent almost the entire fight on the defensive until the very end when he had used a burst of the Force to disarm Lavir.

"I'll do the attacking," Anakin decided. Let's see how long you last this time, he thought smugly.

"Excellent," Lavir agreed with an equally arrogant smile on his face. "In tomorrow's match you'll be on the defensive."

There won't be a match tomorrow if I can help it, Anakin thought as he thumbed on his own cyan lightsaber.

Without bothering to answer, Anakin took two quick strides forward and launched himself at Lavir. They traded simple blows at the beginning and Lavir warded off each of Anakin's strikes with ease. Within minutes he had driven Anakin backward with his strong parries.

Anakin retreated nimbly and watched his opponent. Lavir didn't move, but waited for him to attack again. I'm not going to be able to overpower him with strength, Anakin realized. Not only is he stronger physically, he is also taller and his arms reach farther. Add to that he has been using the Force much longer than I have...

For the first time, Anakin began to doubt that he'd win this fight. I'm faster and stronger in the Force - that's all. Anakin began to circle Lavir. That will have to be enough.

Anakin leapt into the air, flipped upside down and swung his lightsaber at Lavir's head from above. However, Lavir was ready for aerial attacks and harshly blocked the strike. It jarred Anakin's whole right arm badly and nearly made him drop his blue lightsaber.

As Anakin landed on the ground behind Lavir, the older teenager spun around to face him. Anakin griped his lightsaber with both of his hands and returned to simpler strikes and attacks.

That hurt! Anakin tried to ignore his throbbing wrist. I hope he doesn't notice that I'm favoring it.

The more they fought the more frustrated Anakin became. Why can't I find a weakness in his defense? The last time we fought I saw several. Has he studied dueling constantly over the last few months?

At last Anakin began to see a pattern. He keeps blocking from below and rarely raises his blade higher than his shoulder. Seeing his chance to end the match, Anakin turned his body sideways and swung his blade in a wide arc at Lavir's collarbone. Quickly, Anakin backed up to stand almost beside his opponent in order to avoid being hit by the upward parry he was expecting.

Instead, in one smooth motion Lavir twisted to dodge the blade and grabbed Anakin's forearm. With a swift leg sweep, Anakin easily dumped Lavir on the ground and pulled out of his grasp. Anakin lowered his blade to rest by Lavir's neck.

"Kill point," Anakin smirked.

"Same here."

Anakin blinked in surprise and looked down to see that Lavir's green saber was directly under his arm. Just the slightest movement and a fully powered lightsaber could cleave him in half and he'd have no way of stopping it.

Wow! I never saw that. Anakin backed up and deactivated his lightsaber while Lavir rose to his feet.

"Delightful match, Anakin."

Anakin had to stop himself from beaming at the older Padawan's praise. Idiot! Don't fall for his tricks.

"Until tomorrow!" Lavir called out as he left the training room.

"Yeah, bye," Anakin replied absently. He slowly walked over to his stuff and thought about how the battle had progressed and what he could have done to prevent Lavir's killing blow.

"Oh, no!" Anakin halted just inside the exit to the hallway. "I just agreed to spar again tomorrow!"

"I need to see Master An-Paj, now."

The young man at the desk didn't look up. "He is not available at this time."

"He told me to come when I needed to, just tell him I'm here," Anakin said with a frown.

"I can not disturb him right now."

Anakin tried not to scowl. "Is he busy performing a surgery or something?"

"No." The young healer didn't seem interested in helping him at all. "He is with a patient. I suggest you leave Master An-Paj a message and go."

"He told me I had to come. Can't I just wait by his office?"

The man walked from behind the desk to block Anakin from going further. "No, he has more important things to do than be pestered by healthy Padawans who want to chat."

Anakin refused to back off. "And how can you be sure I'm not hurt?"

"If you have wounds one of the other healers can tend to you. You don't have to see Master An-Paj."

"Yes, I do."

The young man was unimpressed. "Out," he ordered and pointed at the door.

Anakin glared at him. I've had enough of this. Pushing past him, Anakin stormed quickly down the hall and began scanning the rooms with the Force.

"Kaely, get him!"

At once, a tiny pink fury began buzzing around the healer's head. Kaely squawked and dove at his face forcing the man to defend himself. He batted at her uselessly as she continually bobbed out of the way.

He finally gave up and began following Anakin anyway. "What are you doing! Stop!"

Anakin ignored the order entirely. Toward the end of the hall, he felt the presence of An-Paj faintly. The young man caught up with him just as Anakin was knocking on the door to the examination room.

"Who is your master?" The healer clamped one heavy hand on Anakin's shoulder. "You are coming with me now!"

Anakin was irritated enough to fling the healer away with the Force. Is was prevented when An-Paj stepped out of the nearest doorway. "What is the meaning of this, Healer Mlacton?"

Kaely ducked to hide behind her maker when she saw An-Paj. As Anakin expected his voice was calm and simply inquiring. Very unlike the man still grasping his shoulder,

"This Padawan will not obey me."

An-Paj returned his gaze to Anakin and waited.

"You said to come immediately after the next time it happened."

Anakin's statement meant nothing to Mlacton, but An-Paj understood. "Finish filing Master Dlosi's chart and release him." He thrust a datapad into the young healer's hands. "I'll deal with this. Come Anakin."

Mlacton gave Anakin a look of contempt before releasing him and turning reluctantly away. An-Paj led the boy into another examining room and quickly began flipping on various screens and pulling out medical devices unfamiliar to Anakin. The Padawan hopped up on the table and waited for directions. Kaely darted to land behind Anakin, and rolled on her wheels to peek around him at the healer.

"Tunic off. How long ago was it?" An-Paj asked while he clasped a scanning band around Anakin's upper arm.

"Just minutes, I came straight here from the Etaciled plant garden one level below us."

An-Paj nodded and stuck a device over Anakin's heart and put another on the boy's forehead. "What caused your glowing this time?"

"Master Yoda insisted that I meditate with him. He knows this happens, but since I've learned to meditate a little with my masters he decided I should anyhow."

"And how much time passed before you lost control?"

"I'm not sure." Anakin concentrated. "I've managed to meditate for ten minutes with Obi-Wan before feeling it about to happen. I think it was probably about that long."

An-Paj removed the instrument from Anakin's chest and began typing at the console. "Were you in pain this time?"

"Just for a few seconds."

An-Paj suddenly stopped and looked at Anakin. "Where is Master Yoda? Wasn't he with you?"

Anakin's face turned red. "He's dealing with the aftermath."

The healer raised one white eyebrow in question.

Anakin slumped. "It messed up the garden and that room's door automatically opens when it senses movement. So, when plants and stuff started blowing around," Anakin sighed dismally, "a lot of debris blew out into the hall and people noticed."

An-Paj began to put away each of the medical tools. "I can find no serious side effects from this incident. How often do you practice meditating with your masters now?"

"Every day while they are here at the Temple."

"And do you feel the glow about to start every time?"


"But you haven't come here, so you stopped it those times?"

Anakin nodded.

An-Paj looked at him quizzically. "Then why didn't you stop it this time?"

Anakin twisted his tunic in his hands and looked down at the floor. "It's not the same. Master Yoda doesn't know how to help and -"

"And you were angry that he ordered you to meditate and so you let the glow happen," An-Paj finished for him.

Anakin pulled his tunic back on and didn't answer. Figures he'd know.

"Anakin, this glowing problem once caused you extreme pain and enormous damage to your surroundings. Yet, now you are using it as a tool to irritate Master Yoda. How did this change happen?"

"Well, I... I didn't know how to control it right for a long time, so of course it hurt. And now I can, but... " Anakin stammered trying to find the words that would make sense. "The Force is different for me. Obi-Wan once described it as the Force screaming at me when it whispers to everyone else. Since I started training here it's become easier to tolerate."

An-Paj sat back in the hover chair by the console. "An apt description. With such a high midi-chlorian count it's understandable that you'd feel overwhelmed when exposed to the Force in such huge bouts, as is typical during meditation. But why do you react like this...?"

Anakin could only shrug.

"It's WHAT?"

"Warping matter," Yoda repeated.

"My glowing warps matter?" Anakin stared. Okay, that does make sense, especially the way stuff would melt and twist or just explode the first few times it happened. Much to his relief, Yoda did not discuss Anakin's loss of control or berate him for it. Now, Anakin became excited that Yoda was choosing to teach him more about it.

"So, how do I stop it?"

"Unconsciously you do this, so consciously you must learn."

What? Anakin slouched in exasperation.

Yoda didn't wait for an answer. He pulled out a very small container and dumped a bluish transparent rubbery substance out onto the floor. It stayed in the dome shape of the box it had been in.

"Easy, liquid matter is," Yoda began to lecture. "Freeze water, melt ice, already you know. This," he pointed to the gelatinous ball. "Malleable it is, but not as simple. Difficult it is to warp metal or wood. Ship hulls and stone, most difficult of all. Few Jedi have strength to learn those."

Anakin's eyes were very wide, But I have... He didn't have to say it aloud or remind the Jedi master. Yoda along with the rest of the Council had seen Anakin turn thick, reinforced durasteel walls and stone floors to slag. And I was doing it unconsciously, too.

Yoda cupped his hands gently around the blue mass and closed his eyes. Anakin watched in fascination as the round ball began to morph into a cylinder and become a small cone. Yoda opened his eyes when the outer edges began to harden into a thin smooth crust to maintain the new shape.

Anakin hardly breathed in awe.

"Remain in this shape permanently, it will," Yoda explained. "Does not destroy the matter, merely changes it. On living matter, this cannot be done. Impossible even for the Sith."

If I can do this, I'd be able to do almost anything. Make my bed without making it, clean up messy oil spills on my worktable fast, dump a bowl of Yoda's gruel on Lavir's head and not get caught... A grin began spreading rapidly across Anakin face.

Yoda put his hand back on the cone and instantly it warped back into the soft rubbery blob.

"Now hold it," Yoda instructed. As Anakin did so, Yoda placed his small three-fingered hands on top of Anakin's large ones.

Slower this time, Yoda repeated changing the shape of the ball. Anakin could feel the Force thrum with power through the old Jedi's hands, past his own and into the object. The Force coaxed the matter particles to move apart and condense into a square this time. Once it was finished, Yoda again reduced it back to the blue lump and removed his hands.

"Now, into another shape, mold this," Yoda ordered. "Return later I shall, to see your progress."

"Yes, Master Yoda," Anakin eagerly focused on his new toy.

Yoda hobbled to the training room's exit rather quicker than usual, but Anakin didn't notice.

"Hey! Its not working!" Anakin complained.

"Practice, practice," Yoda said from the doorway.

Just as the door began to shut, a loud splat echoed inside as blue pieces splattered over Anakin.

"Aw, man. What a mess," Anakin moaned.

Only after the door finished closing did Yoda smile.

That afternoon's sparring match with Lavir was not going well.

"You are not paying any attention." Lavir was puzzled. He'd managed to dump Anakin on the floor twice in a row.

Anakin hauled himself off the floor in frustration while he tried to come up with a suitable answer. At least I don't have to worry about Lavir bragging. So, long as he keeps his word about not telling anyone about our sparring matches, that is. Finally, Anakin settled on the truth. It's not like he could use it against me.

"I was just told this afternoon that my masters have been delayed," Anakin grumbled. "I have no idea when they will get back, only that it won't be in a few days, but rather more like a few more weeks. I'm not sure."

Anakin scowled at the lightsaber in his hand. Lavir looked at his opponent warily and asked another question he knew Anakin didn't want to hear.

"Why didn't you go with them?"

Anakin snapped at him, "Because I can't go on missions until the healers say my heart can handle the stress."

Lavir looked at him sharply. "Isn't lightsaber dueling stressful for a recovering injury, especially the heart?"

Anakin realized with a start what he had just said. Yes, it's the standard excuse that the Council and my masters told me to say. But, it's not true anymore and hasn't been for weeks. And Lavir sensed that. Anakin's anger turned to ice. I don't care.

"Yes you're right. I'm just fine now, but they didn't take me with them."

Without another word, Anakin shut off his lightsaber and left the training room.

"I don't know!"

"You ask."

"Come on, it can't be that hard."

"Are you kidding?"

"No way, you do it!"

"I'd pass out before opening my mouth!"

"And you think I wouldn't?"

As Anakin rounded the corner, the frantic whispering ceased. He looked warily at the clump of Padawans doing their best to act like they didn't see him. Shaking off the creepy feeling, Anakin moved past them to get in the lunch line. Several teenagers ahead of him were all buzzing loudly and Anakin listened to the variety of voices jabber.

"How long?"

"No one knows!"

"I'd be terrified if I had to do that."

"I wouldn't want to!"

"Are you really sure?"

"I saw them myself, I just didn't know what it meant until I heard this morning."

"It makes sense to me."

"Oh, come on!"

"I'm serious!"

"If it were anyone else, I'd say no, but -"


Anakin blinked in confusion as one of the older girls in front of him in line clapped her hand over the speaking boy's mouth. Everyone involved in and not part of the conversation went silent. The rest of what the boy was saying was completely muffled and then he stopped and stared as if seeing Anakin for the first time.

Anakin sighed. It had been like that all morning. Everywhere he went the Padawans pretended to not stare at him and would whisper amongst themselves only to become quiet when they saw him approach. They are all talking about me, but what?

Anakin felt like his skin was crawling as he collected his lunch and walked to his usual table. Suoicarg and Elbaima were already there. What was odd was that they were the only ones at the table. Anakin had become used to a hoard of Padawans vying for who could squeeze in with them each day. What could make everyone else avoid me?

"Hi." Anakin sat down and was not surprised that his two friends wouldn't meet his eyes. "So what's going on?"

Suoicarg's pale grayish skin flushed purple. "There's nothing you need to worry about, Ani."

Anakin frowned and started to speak, but Elbaima came to her rescue. "Why don't we talk about the next swim meet instead?"

Anakin gave him an aggravated look. "Everyone is talking about me, aren't they," he stated bluntly.

"Well, yes but-" Suoicarg began, but she stopped speaking when Anakin stood up suddenly.

Without wasting a minute to explain, Anakin left his lunch and stalked towards the nearest exit. No one followed him, though he would have been grateful if he'd noticed that. It was obvious that he'd not get any answers from them.

Anakin stopped in the empty corridor and waited in the center of the walkway. Just as he expected, within a minute Lavir rounded the corner. The older Padawan usually arrived at the dining hall at the same time each day and always entered the same door. Today three Elite flanked Lavir. They ground to a halt when they saw Anakin's cold expression.

"Lavir," he announced. "Ditch your bantha pups and follow me. Now."

Lavir stared at him, but Anakin didn't move or flinch under Lavir's stern gaze. Finally, Lavir decided it would be in his best interest to comply. "Go on," he said and nodded to his group. They obeyed reluctantly and threw suspicious looks at Anakin as they walked past him. Anakin didn't even notice, he was too busy glaring at Lavir.

"Shall we?" Lavir said mockingly.

Anakin stormed past and darted into the nearest room he sensed was empty. It turned out to be a large meditation filled with hanging plants and vines strung across several rafters crisscrossing on a many levels of exposed beams.

The moment the door closed, Anakin struck. Lavir dodged the punch to his face but not the hand that threw him against a nearby wall with a little help from the Force.

"You told!" Anakin fumed. I was so stupid to spout off like that! I should have known he'd tell everyone that my masters deliberately left me behind!

"What?" Lavir croaked as he staggered to maintain his footing.

Anakin moved to block the doorway to prevent Lavir from escaping and ignited his lightsaber.

"Did you really think I wouldn't get you back for this," Anakin growled. "I thought you were smart enough not risk blabbing to the whole Temple!"

Lavir glared back. "I don't know what you are talking about!" Quickly, he pulled out his own lightsaber and prepared to defend himself.

"I don't believe you!" Anakin screeched and swung at Lavir's face.

Anakin fought with a viciousness that Lavir had never seen before. Anakin aimed most of his blows at the most vulnerable parts of the human body. For the first time in his life, Lavir got a glimpse of what it would be like to duel with someone whose intention was to kill him.

He had no choice but to give ground as Anakin moved faster and faster. What Lavir had advantage in strength was negated by Anakin's speed and anger. Without warning, Anakin began pulling the dirtiest tricks a fighter can do. Lavir spun to avoid an elbow strike to his face but failed to protect himself as Anakin's blade came down on the back of his legs. Only the fact that all Padawan lightsabers were set for training saved him from losing both limbs. Instead, it left a horrid burn.

It became clear in minutes that Anakin wasn't just planning to give Lavir a good beating, but would actually injure him if he could. As Lavir failed to block a few of Anakin's blows, a pattern in his attacks began to form. Anakin was striking at torture points and deliberately hitting Lavir's kneecaps, elbows and wrists.

Finally realizing how much danger he was really in, Lavir vaulted upward. Anakin was startled, but followed him to balance on the beams above. The footing was treacherous. Not only were the beams spaced far apart, the ropes from the hanging baskets and vines were wrapped around each of them. Anakin flipped over Lavir's head intending to drive him back to the ground.

Lavir was ready for him. In one smooth motion, Lavir caught Anakin under his arm with his blade and knocked him over the side. The strike was very painful and would leave a nasty burn, but the real hazard was the rapidly approaching floor. Lavir stood still and watched him fall. Briefly banishing the pain from his mind, Anakin used the Force to catch himself.

Lavir was shocked. "How did you do that?!"

Anakin looked up at him smugly. "Levitating? Nothing to it."

"Even my master can't do that when falling," Lavir mumbled in shock. Anakin took advantage of the distraction to swiftly rise back up to the beams and attack again. Lavir was still recovering from his surprise and stumbled. Anakin succeeded in leaving a long burn on Lavir's arm.

Anakin gave his opponent a feral grin.

Lavir continued to give ground and tried another tactic. "This is not how Jedi behave."

Anakin laughed coldly. "You're only saying that because you're losing."

"I'm serious, this has gone on long enough," Lavir persisted. "You've accused," he panted, "me of embarrassing you in some way and I've denied it. Let our masters decide who is being truthful."

"Oh, I'm not falling for that trick." Anakin jabbed at his legs, forcing Lavir to jump further back. "My masters are gone. Master Yoda always thinks the worst of me, and your master would never believe anyone over her precious Padawan."

Lavir flinched, but kept his emotions under control. "You are being belligerent and I won't tolerate this anymore." Lavir began leaping to the lower beam trying to reach the floor.

"Do you really think you are a sterling example of a Jedi after the way you mind tricked that girl two years ago?" Anakin sneered. "Hypocrite! You are no better than me."

Lavir landed awkwardly on the ground and ceased his mad dash for the exit. His face had gone white and the sudden fear rolling off him was palatable. Anakin grinned and dropped down from his perch.

"What do you know about that?" Lavir asked hoarsely.

Anakin was happy to explain, "That you tried to seduce a girl while out on one of your missions about two years ago. She was very beautiful and you just couldn't resist." Anakin mocked. "And you were so insulted when she refused you!"

"How do you know about that?" Lavir repeated, louder this time as the color returned to his ashen face.

"You're pathetic," Anakin continued. "You had to resort to mind-tricks!"

"I wasn't going to actually hurt her!"

"Oh, like I'm going to really believe that? She's lucky your master caught you in time!"

Lavir's face went from red to purple. "Only my master and I know about this! Where did you find out?!"

Anakin still ignored the question and laughed at him. "Yes, she didn't want to risk that you might be expelled from the Temple so she covered it up and didn't even report it to the Council! She'd do anything for you."

"Master Tcirts-ton wasn't going to let one incident that was stopped from happening ruin my life! She is a good and fair master!"

"Ha! Keep saying that and maybe you'll believe it."

Lavir bellowed in fury and attacked. Anakin dodged and parried the older teenager's strikes easily. Letting his anger fuel his efforts, Lavir scored a hit to Anakin's already burnt shoulder. Anakin stopped laughing.

"Everyone will stop gossiping about me once I tell them about what you did," Anakin threatened. "Every Padawan will shun you Lavir and the masters will have to punish you."

"I was punished!" Lavir shouted.

"Bah, that was nothing! A little more meditation, a bit of hard labor, and a rather short restriction from your friends after you came home. Oh, and one measly apology to your victim before your master wiped her memory of the whole thing! You got off way too easy!"

"You won't tell them anything!" Lavir declared hotly and flung Anakin backwards. Anakin caught himself enough to not hit the wall and glared. Closing his eyes, Anakin began levitating the potted plants sitting on the floor and flung them at Lavir. Lavir could only crouch on the ground and protect his head with his lightsaber while the rest of his body was pummeled.


Instantly, both Padawans felt their limbs freeze up and grow very heavy as they were seized by a Jedi Master. All of the plants and their lightsabers simply crashed to the ground and neither had the strength to pick them up again.

"The meaning of this, you will explain!" Yoda commanded.

At first, both boys were speechless. Anakin slouched, cradling his left arm and shoulder. He had to be careful not to fall on the shards of pottery around him. Lavir remained hunched on the floor staring at his and Anakin's lightsabers lying in Yoda's hands. Yoda waited for them to calm themselves and collect their thoughts.

In the mean time, Yoda surveyed the damage. The dark side was often very difficult to detect clearly, but anger was one of the exceptions; it couldn't be hidden or disguised. The level of anger vibrating from the room could only be of the dark side. In addition, all of the clues pointing to a typical dark side brawl were plain to see. The room itself was in shambles; not even the walls escaping damage. What few hanging plants and vines that remained intact were already wilting away and would die soon after because the dark side had poisoned them.

The teenagers didn't look much better than their surroundings. Only the fact that neither had broken or missing limbs prevented Yoda from taking them both to the infirmary immediately. Lavir was definitely the worst off of the two. He had many scorch marks on his clothes and blood was beginning to seep through on his right forearm and on his back from the wounds caused by the pots that broke when hitting him.

Anakin had fared a little better. He had numerous burns from Lavir's lightsaber and was holding his arm very carefully. His face was very white and growing paler.

Yoda decided he'd waited long enough, "In great peril you both are, for the dark side will destroy you."

Without warning Anakin gagged and vomited on the floor. He fell to his knees and dry-heaved. Yoda offered him no assistance and Lavir looked like he was close to losing his stomach's contents as well.

"A Trial of Life, this is. One of many to endure, you will," Yoda explained to them. "Failed, both of you have."

Yoda hobbled over to Lavir. "Elder you are, Padawan Ruoy. Speak."

Anakin recovered enough to move back and sit against the wall. Lavir gulped and moved his mouth, but for a moment, no sound came out. "Anakin accused me of doing something that angered him. I don't know what. He attacked first and I defended myself."

"See that, I can," Yoda answered wryly.

That statement only served to make Lavir look sicker. "I did tell him that our fighting wasn't appropriate and I tried to leave, but he wouldn't let me."

Oh, sure, make me look as bad as you can, Anakin thought bitterly. He struggled to not interrupt.

"Oh," Yoda's ears rose up slightly. "And fight how long before thinking to stop did you?"

"I.." Lavir stammered. "I was busy trying to protect myself..."

"Elder by five years, you are! Responsible, you are, to stop such foolishness at the start!"

Somehow Lavir managed to look even more miserable.

"More to this there is," Yoda said. "Angered you greatly, Anakin did."

"He insulted my master."

Yoda waited for Lavir to say more, but he didn't.

If he won't tell him I will! Anakin glared across the room at Lavir. And I won't distort it like he would.

"Padawan Skywalker, begin."

Finally! Anakin sat up straighter. "Lavir knows that my masters left me here on purpose."

Yoda quickly looked back at Lavir. "Know why, do you?"

Lavir jumped at the sudden urgency in Yoda's voice. "No, I don't!"

Lavir stared as Yoda visibly relaxed. Anakin continued. "All day the others have been avoiding me and whispering about me. Lavir is the only one who could have told them!"

"I didn't tell them!" Lavir bellowed.

"Speak out of turn, you will not," Yoda answered sternly. "Truth he speaks, Anakin."

Anakin sagged against the wall, still irritated, but most of his anger had drained away. And I thought I was in big trouble already.

"So, revenge you took."

Anakin just nodded. The after effects of using the dark side were making his head spin and his stomach still churned from ceasing to use it.

"You infuriated Lavir. How?"

Anakin was stumped. Should I tell him all of it? Lavir will just get madder at me if I do. I've blown it enough as it is. If he isn't punished enough for his part in this fight, then I'll tell.

"I said that his master always takes his side of things and that she lets him get away with stuff he shouldn't. I didn't exactly insult Master Tcirts-ton directly."

Yoda decided that he'd heard enough. "Unacceptable this behavior is. Speak more of this later, I will."

"Master Yoda," Lavir said humbly, "my actions were not those of a Jedi and I will strive to never repeat this mistake again."

"Uh," Anakin mumbled, "me, too. He just had to think of another way to make me look worse, Anakin grumbled to himself.

"To the Healers go, Lavir," Yoda instructed. "Remain there until your master comes. Speak of this to no one but her."

Lavir slowly dragged himself up off the floor. Giving Yoda an awkward bow, he stiffly left the room without another word.

"Turn this meditation room into a battleground you did!" Yoda exclaimed once Lavir was out of hearing range.

Anakin didn't even try to not glower at Yoda. There is no way I'm going to sit through more lecturing from him right now!

"I need to see the healers too, you know!"

"Come." Yoda sighed and stepped around the broken pottery as he made his way to the exit. "Be out of my sight for even a minute, you can not!"

Anakin despondently followed as they slowly made their way to his quarters. Yoda's time-consuming hobble always made it irritating for Anakin to match. Today it felt even more like mincing. As he'd known, each time they encountered Padawans or even a few Knights, they hushed their discussion. However, they always did that in respect or in the case of the Padawans, awe of Yoda. So, Anakin couldn't tell if all the Padawans were still talking about him or not.

Kaely greeted them cheerfully at the door and was disappointed that they didn't return it. She hovered quietly as Yoda shuffled past to sit in his low chair and Anakin sat on the floor. Abruptly she squealed and darted at her master.

"What?" Anakin asked in exasperation.

The pink droid flew around him and extended one of her tiny arms to point at the various injuries on his body. She flashed her eyes at him.

"Yeah, I'm beat up, but I'll be fine," Anakin explained.

She clucked at him in aggravation, but managed to refrain from out right scolding him. Anakin ignored her.

"More to this there is," Yoda insisted. "Tell me you will."

Well, it's a direct order, so I've got to, Anakin rationalized. He ignored the voice in the back of his mind, that oddly sounded a lot like Obi-Wan, reminding him that he'd disobeyed direct orders before without hesitating. However, the prospect of Lavir getting punished was too tempting.

"I was furious that I thought Lavir had told everyone and the way he pretended to remember that our fighting was wrong just made things worse. He only said that because he was losing," Anakin grumbled.

"Know that I do."

"Right. I told him he was no better than I. You see, he always acts like he is so much better than everyone else and has treated not just me, but a lot of the others like we weren't worthy of his notice."

"To the point you will get."

"Uh huh, I reminded him about how he used the dark side once and got away with it."

That got Yoda's full attention.

It'll be fine. Anakin reminded himself. It's not like Lavir's in danger of being kicked out of the Temple or anything. Just getting the punishment he deserves. "Lavir used mind tricks to try to seduce a girl, about two years ago, but his master stopped him. Lavir felt like I was insulting Master Tcirts-ton, because I said she didn't really punish him for it."

"Know that I did not," Yoda murmured.

"Yeah, Master Tcirts-ton didn't want to risk anyone finding out. She even mind-wiped the girl!"

"And know this, how do you?"

Anakin froze. I am so stupid.

Yoda waited, but not long. "Spy on Lavir and Master Tcirts-ton as discuss it they did?"

"No, sir. Not exactly."

"Your droid did then?"

"No!" Anakin exclaimed. If he thinks Kaely did it, they'll make me get rid of her! Kaely panicked as she finally understood what Yoda said and darted around to hide behind Anakin's back. She peeked at Yoda from over Anakin's shoulder and screeched indignantly at the wizened master.

"Kaely doesn't have anything to do with this," Anakin sulked. "I saw it in Lavir's mind."

Yoda looked skeptical. "Strong enough to break through Lavir's shields, you are not yet. Even with the dark side."

"I didn't have to, his mental shields were down."

"Notice your intrusion he should have."

"He was unconscious."

Yoda had enough of Anakin's evasiveness. "Explain from the beginning!"

"Months ago, during the glowing incident in the dining hall, Lavir and a bunch of other Padawans were all knocked out and stuck inside the glow range."

"Remember this I do," Yoda encouraged him in a softer tone.

"I started seeing things from their minds. It was happening very fast and it hurt, so I stopped it as quick as I could. I don't remember much of what I saw," Anakin's voice trailed off.

"And then, chose to see more of Lavir's memories, you did."

Well, there goes my hope that he'd assume I only saw things once by accident. Anakin sighed.

Anakin opened his mouth to defend his reasons, but Yoda cut him off. "Try to justify using the dark side, do not!"

Anakin flinched.

"Good reason they had," Yoda almost whispered and then looked back up at Anakin. "To leave you here."

Anakin only blinked at Yoda in confusion.

"Sensed, your masters did, that something very wrong, there was. Gave you a chance to confess."

Anakin thought back to just before Obi-Wan and Master Qui-Gon left. "They kept saying that there was something that they had to find out before it would be safe to take me on missions again. But I didn't know what they meant."

"If concealed something you did, stay to find out they would have," Yoda explained. "Yet confused you were, so they felt safe to leave you."

"Separate you from Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan again we will not," Yoda told him wearily. "Too much..."

Yoda didn't finish his sentence, but he didn't need to. Anakin knew what he was saying. I'm too much for you to keep out of trouble.

"To the Council this must go. Remain here."

As Yoda left, Anakin slouched in despair with only Kaely to keep him company.

Anakin spent most of the hours stretched out on the floor by the holo-terminal waiting for Yoda to call him. Kaely hovered protectively nearby. He had plenty of time to think about his actions and was rather surprised at how long it took before true guilt and regret set in.

"Kaely, what have I done to myself?"

The droid really had no way of helping. She could only give a few mournful beeps.

"How am I ever going to prove that I am worthy to be a Jedi?" The one thing Anakin didn't fear was being expelled entirely. No, they won't risk losing me now that they are so sure I'm the Chosen One. Especially after this mess I've caused. They'll be really watching me now.

However, Anakin had good reason to fret just the same. "They might still send me away from the Temple, though. Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan could take me away somewhere that I can't hurt anyone and not bring me back until after they were confident that I'm not dangerous anymore."

Anakin groaned. "I hope I haven't wrecked things that badly. I like living here."

As he thought about his predicament, Kaely suddenly flew into view and dropped an object on Anakin's chest. Instantly, she darted away.

"Hey!" Anakin yelped as she returned with a second that landed on his head this time. "What are you doing?!"

Anakin sat up to examine the items. One was a package of dried meat and the other was a cleaning sponge. He turned around as Kaely dumped a stringy looking red vegetable in his lap and zipped back to the kitchen. As Anakin watched in confusion, she randomly selected yet another thing from the cabinet. This time it was a heavy sack of bread. It weighted the little droid down and she labored to carry it to him.

Finally the answer came to him. "Kaely, thanks for trying to help, but I'm not very hungry."

She dropped the bread on the floor beside him and squawked. Drifting down to the pile of stuff, she hauled up the sponge. Kaely beeped insistently.

"I know I should eat, but I can't eat that. It's not food."

Kaely moaned at him and released the sponge, letting it fall to the ground.

"Yes, I know that I use other stuff to help me eat, but that isn't one of them," Deciding to humor her, Anakin pulled out some of the bread. "There, happy now?"

She cooed at him pleasantly and flew over to land on the arm of Yoda's chair. Anakin stretched back out on the floor and resumed pouring out his thoughts and feelings to his droid.

"I'll have to apologize to Lavir for accusing him falsely and for the dark side stuff I did months ago," Anakin mumbled between bites. "That will help some, but I'm still going to be really punished for this."

Kaely gave an electronic sigh. She was getting good at answering sympathetically at all the right times.

The console finally beeped. Anakin looked at the flashing light soberly before keying the message, but he already knew what it was. The Council had summoned him.

The Anakin Skywalker that arrived at the Council Chambers late that evening was humble and very stressed out. I haven't felt this deserted in years. Anakin thought as he made the suddenly very long walk to the center of the room. There were only seven members of the Council present and Anakin wasn't sure if that would be a good thing or if it might work to his disadvantage. Being confined to quarters had given Anakin plenty of time to dread facing the Council's ire.

Lavir and his master were already there and from the looks of it, had been for some time. Lucky guy. I don't have my masters here to defend me.

Lavir's master was the same height as her Padawan and very strong looking. She had a motherly feel to her in Lavir's memories that Anakin had seen, but of course Master Tcirts-ton's demeanor towards Anakin was only cold.

Anakin had to struggle to pull his eyes from the floor to meet Lavir's gaze. "I apologize for my cruel actions, Lavir. They were not only unjustified, but also made in anger. Please forgive me."

"Of course," Lavir answered quietly. "Likewise I ask that you forgive me for setting a bad example. I could have prevented this from getting out of control if I'd only heeded my training."

Anakin blinked in surprise. He's apologizing to me?! And Yoda made it look like he didn't do anything wrong.

"Both of you are forbidden from speaking of this entire brawl and its repercussions with anyone other than your own masters," Mace announced. "However, we will not allow you to avoid each other. You must learn to put this behind you and move on without resentment. Over time you two will be required to work as a team on a variety of projects and possibly on missions. These ongoing tests will show whether or not you have overcome this and learned to cooperate."

Lavir suddenly looked very relieved and Anakin had to fight to not glance suspiciously at him. Master Tcirts-ton never said a word as Mace dismissed her and Lavir. No mention was made of Lavir's past use of the dark side and likewise they did not discuss Anakin's infraction from months ago. Anakin waited stiffly for the Council to speak again now that they had him alone.

"Your punishment for this will be decided by your masters when they return, Padawan Skywalker," Mace said formally. "Until then, you are restricted from all other extra activities. You will not join the other Padawans at lunch and your afternoon free time will be spent in more training."

"Yes, sir."

Anakin was grateful that the Council wasn't taking his punishment into their own hands. I can live without my friends. I'm not close to any of them and they are all avoiding me right now anyway. And I know that Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan will be fair. Anakin was very surprised when Mace continued speaking instead of dismissing him like he expected.

"We have determined that the punishment Padawan Ruoy underwent was sufficient at the time, however he must be re-evaluated. This evaluation he will undergo is comparable to a shorter and less intense version of the Trials."

Anakin jerked in surprise. They didn't have to tell me this, but I'm glad they did.

The first two days of Anakin's restriction were anything but dull. Yoda did everything he could to keep him too busy to get in trouble. Anakin found himself collapsing in exhaustion both nights and reluctantly being hauled out much earlier in the morning than he was used to. Yoda thought up some of the strangest tasks for Anakin to do, everything from spending hours crawling through ductwork doing maintenance, to seeing how long he could keep five objects levitated and various other irrelevant jobs.

And through it all, Yoda never once let Anakin out of his sensing range and rarely out of sight. Anakin was considerably relieved that Yoda told him that he could still attend the prophecy classes. Eagerly, Anakin followed the ancient master through the halls and was careful not to gripe about being escorted to class. He was actually surprised that Yoda wasn't going to sit in the back of the room to watch over him during the lesson. Yoda left him at the door and reminded Anakin that he'd return when the class ended.

Anakin entered the room with a smile on his face and was delighted to see that no one had arrived yet. Setting his datapad on a desk, Anakin put his head on his arms and prepared to take a short and much needed nap. With luck, he might even be able to get away with snoozing through the day's lesson.

A persistent whispering brought Anakin back to awareness. He raised his head to look groggily at those making the offending noise. There was a large group of the Padawans who attended the class all huddled by the door. They hushed the moment they realized he was watching them.

Oh joy, even the older Padawans are shunning me. By now Anakin was past caring. Well, so long as they do their gossiping over there I'll be able to sleep.

Anakin dropped his head back down and shut his eyes. He jerked when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Anakin looked up again, but this time one of the other students had left the group. She drew her hand away quickly and looked very nervous, but much bolder than her comrades huddled by the exit.

"Is it true?"

Anakin blinked at her. Oh, great now I gotta confirm or deny the rumors that my masters left me behind because they don't trust me? Can't they just leave me alone? I don't know if I'd really be able to do any damage control at this point. They've had too many days to discuss it.

Visibly gathering her courage the young woman continued. "Everyone has just been going crazy wanting to know. We don't dare ask our masters, they'd just tell us that it's none of our business," she prattled. "We've tried to be patient. Please, could you tell us?"

"Just say yes or no, and I won't bother you about it again!" she added quickly when she saw Anakin grimace.

Deciding that just telling the truth would have to do, Anakin answered her in a miserable tone that he hoped didn't sound whiney, "Yes."

Her reaction was nothing like he anticipated. She stumbled backward and actually tripped over her own feet. The clump of Padawans by the door gasped loudly in almost perfect unison. Anakin stood to help the young woman back to her feet. She stared up at him with wide eyes and tried to speak again, but no sound passed through her lips. The commotion at the back of the room grew more intense and the door opened and closed several times.

"He's what?!"

While the girl went to join the others, Lavir Ruoy bounded past the Padawans and stopped one row of chairs behind Anakin. Anakin felt both agitated and reassured to see him. So, Lavir passed that evaluation or he wouldn't be here. But I think the Council knew he would. At least I don't have to worry about Lavir getting thrown out of the Temple and coming after me to get revenge later.

"I just heard today," Lavir said breathlessly. "I couldn't believe it."

"I..." Anakin tried to speak.

Lavir stepped forward and in a hoarse whisper asked, "This is what sparked our fight?

"Lavir." Anakin glanced at the still chattering crowd and also whispered. "I still don't know what's going on."

Lavir's eyebrows nearly went to his hairline. "Well, then let me inform you!"

Lavir backed up a little and raised his voice so that the others could hear. "In the last several months, almost a year, some have noticed that you seem to spend a lot of time with the members of the High Council."

The rest of the class drew closer as Lavir spoke. They could always count on Lavir to be audacious enough to find out the things they wouldn't dare. Anakin begin to feel a little claustrophobic as they came nearer.

"And a few months ago, rumors began that you are being personally trained by each of them, Anakin."

Anakin looked sharply and accusingly at Lavir.

"But it wasn't me!" Lavir insisted. "I don't know who found out first. I did see proof myself later, but despite that, I didn't confirm the rumor," Lavir told him carefully.

That, Anakin could believe. Lavir would have preferred that no one knew. It wasn't to his advantage. Well, the Council won't like this, but it's not my fault.

"Yes, I have been getting extra lessons from the Council, but its only because I need them!" Anakin explained.

Lavir gave him a scathing look. "Yes, it is clear that you do."

Anakin did his best to ignore Lavir's tone. "It really is none of your business," Anakin said.

The group resumed murmuring anyway and seemed oblivious to the way Lavir and Anakin were glaring at each other. Leaning forward over a chair an excited young man interrupted, "Yes, Lavir is right, as the Chosen One, you do need plenty of special training."

Anakin became very still and didn't breathe. Why... how did... when? he thought incoherently.

The students quieted suddenly and Anakin recovered his voice. "You aren't supposed to know that." He struggled to keep calm. And because I said yes earlier when that girl asked 'if it was true' I've already confirmed it!

However, only half the Padawans heard him. The rest were looking at the door where the instructor was standing with empty arms and a pile of datacards lying at her feet. Datacards that contained the quiz for the lesson about the Prophesy of the Chosen One they'd learned the previous weeks.

Realizing that she'd probably heard everything, Anakin jumped to his feet. Unable to control his growing panic any longer, he bolted past everyone and into the hall.

Lavir's initial outburst in the classroom now made more sense to Anakin, as did everyone else's odd reactions. It was no wonder that everyone had avoided him that morning four days ago. They were too shocked that it might be true and too respectful of his feelings to directly ask.

Or maybe they were just too timid. It's amazing that Suoicarg and Elbaima actually had the courage to sit with me at lunch.

Anakin dashed through the corridors heedless of the stares. He completely ignored the few hastily shouted reprimands. Rudely, Anakin slid into a turbolift before a knight could enter and keyed the door shut. Alone and very irritated, Anakin fought to curb his impatience. If I could, I'd just hop out of a window and levitate to the Council Spire windows and go in that way. Too bad those windows don't open, Anakin fantasized.

Finally, the lift reached its destination and Anakin managed to refrain from bounding out. Stiffly, he stopped outside of the huge closed doors of the Council Chamber.

Master Qui-Gon made it look so easy. Just shove them open and boldly walk in like you own the place.

Anakin didn't move a muscle.

As it happened, he didn't have to barge in. Yoda, along with the rest of the Council, had sensed Anakin's hurried approach. Taking pity on the boy, one of the doors opened and Yoda hobbled out.

"We have a problem," Anakin began.

Once again, Anakin was in Yoda's quarters waiting. Yoda had listened to him with varying degrees of surprise and dismay. Anakin wasn't sure if he felt pleased or disgruntled that Yoda had sent him back to his quarters and had not included Anakin in their discussion on how to handle this. As he stretched out on his bed and dosed, Anakin chose relief. Let them figure it all out. If I tried I'd go mad.

Anakin returned to full alertness when he sensed Yoda finally arrive. He skittered out of bed and into the main room just as the door slid open. Yoda shuffled in carrying two items, a compactly folded wooden slat contraption and a ball of twine.

Yoda sat them on the floor where Anakin knelt. "Assemble the frame and this string, thread through the holes."

"Yes, Master Yoda," Anakin replied quietly and began following Yoda's instructions.

Yoda said no more and slowly made his way to the kitchen. He took his time preparing and brewing tea for himself. He's testing my patience again, Anakin thought. Fine, I can be patient. I've been patient all afternoon, a few more minutes won't hurt.

In the meantime, Kaely peeked out of Anakin's room. She was always wary of being in the apartment alone with Yoda and would stay close to Anakin most of the time. Seeing that Yoda's back was turned, she zipped into sight and flew over to her maker to examine what he was doing.

Kaely cheerfully helped assemble the frame. She had accompanied Anakin on all of the meaningless tasks Yoda had required him to do. Yoda had never barred her from assisting him, though admittedly she wasn't able to really help much. At last, Yoda apparently decided that he'd stalled long enough and slowly returned to Anakin. He sipped his tea in contemplation before speaking.

"Anticipate, we did not," Yoda began, "that discover, they would. Especially not the Padawans first."

"How did they all find out?"

"Unknown, but matters little of how," Yoda told him. "Perhaps later, find out we will. For now, focus on that they know, we must."

Anakin nodded. Yeah, but I don't think there is anything to be done. They know and they are going to keep gossiping about it for a while. Kaely snipped off a piece of the string and began threading it through one of the rows of tiny holes to help Anakin. She liked the colorful strands of the twine.

"Certain you are, that all Padawans in the Temple know?"

"Yes and they've had four days to talk, so its probably reached the Cr?che by now."

"Little there is to do now. Inform all of the masters we must."

"Are they going to talk a lot about me, too?" Anakin asked woefully.

"Yes." Yoda didn't sound any happier. "For a time. Expect more from you they will. Harder to endure it will be."

Anakin took Yoda's warning seriously. Everything is going to be more difficult. And everyone will be watching me more closely now. From here on, my every mistake and failing will be on display and their usual politeness won't stop them from talking about it in length. Yoda's right, this is going to be terrible.

As Anakin thought about how he was going to deal with the next few days, Yoda turned to carry his cup back to the kitchen and stumbled. Anakin looked up from his work in surprise as Yoda regained his balance and thankfully didn't fall. The old master poked his gimer stick at a colorful thread stretching from the large wooden frame to his ankle. Anakin struggled to suppress a laugh as Yoda untied his foot.

Yoda didn't bother even accusing Anakin of the prank, he knew who the culprit was. Naturally, Kaely was nowhere to be seen. Returning his cup to the kitchen, Yoda quietly left for his own room.

"You can come out now."

From the tabard lapels over his tunic, the pink droid poked one little sensor out to check for sure that Yoda was gone before coming out.

"Kaely, I don't think anyone can trip Master Yoda," Anakin consoled her and grinned. "But it was a very good try."

The door chime rang and Anakin reluctantly stood up from his work. Probably someone from the Council. Anakin felt outward to determine who was there and grinned. He scrambled for the door at full speed and keyed it open.

Obi-Wan grinned back at him. "Hi, Ani! Miss us?"

"We wanted to surprise you," Qui-Gon added, also smiling broadly. The smile quickly faded as he sensed Anakin's mood.

"Tell us," he said quietly.

"This is a disaster."

Qui-Gon glanced at his friend murmuring quietly to himself. "A dilemma perhaps. I'd hardly consider it a disaster."

Obi-Wan shrugged absently. "I'd hoped they all wouldn't discover he is the Chosen One so soon."

"We must make the best of it," Qui-Gon couldn't help reminding him. "Have you heard how they learned of this yet?"

"No, and I don't expect to," Obi-Wan leaned against Anakin's worktable and crossed his arms. "It could have been something as simple as one of the Padawans seeing a vision of Ani. Or just one of his classmates in the prophecy class recognizing that Anakin's power makes him a likely candidate and thereby deducing that is why Ani was in the class despite his age. And though its very unlikely, someone could have overheard the Council or even us speaking, despite our caution."

"Regardless, it must be the will of the Force that they know now."

"And the Council doesn't like that."

"Unfortunate for them." Qui-Gon didn't smile, but the unwavering certainty in his voice was there. "They must accept it and move on. Their dislike will change nothing."

"We've not prepared Anakin to cope with it."

"Perhaps he is ready nonetheless." Qui-Gon walked to the largest window in their apartment. "He passed all of Master Yoda's tasks and irritations."

Yoda had tested Anakin constantly for days by plying the teenager with menial and bizarre tasks. It was encouraging that Anakin's reaction to the meaningless and humiliating work had proven that he was capable of patience and diligence.

"I still cannot think of a suitable punishment for his use of the dark side months ago and for attacking Padawan Ruoy."

"The Tournament is next week. We could bar Anakin from entering."

The annual lightsaber tournament was the biggest test of a Padawan's skill in saber combat. Teams of Jedi would arrive from all over the galaxy so that all the Padawans could compete, many of the masters and knights volunteering to test the best fighters.

"Ani would be more likely to see that as a blessing. Before we left he was worried he would be trounced by the older Padawans," Obi-Wan recalled. "Refusing to let him participate wouldn't be a punishment and as I recall, the tournament is a requirement."

The door opened and Anakin trudged in. As it closed behind him, he gave a long sigh of relief.

"And how are the masses behaving today?"

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan askance. "I think I preferred it when they were avoiding me."

Anakin stood in the walkway and looked nervously at his masters. They had quietly discussed his behavior all morning during training and afterward had stayed in the apartment and told Anakin to go to lunch. Waiting for the verdict was becoming very difficult.

"Anakin," Qui-Gon said, "if someone deliberately intruded into your memories, and then later attacked you with that knowledge, what punishment do you think they would deserve?"

Anakin tensed up and stared. Is he giving me a chance to choose my own, or is this another test? Anakin thought frantically. I have to answer honestly. If I try to make it lenient I'll have failed if it's a test.

"At first I'd want him to be expelled, though I know that wouldn't happen." Anakin voice was very strained. "I wouldn't trust him again for a long time and I'd want everyone to know what he'd done so that they wouldn't be fooled into trusting him. I wouldn't want to even see him, so I'd want to send him away." Anakin's voice became quieter as he told them his worst fear. "I'd put him someplace like the Agri-corps and wouldn't let him come back to the Temple until I was sure it was safe."

Anakin waited with his head bowed. He didn't see the looks of approval on his masters' faces and for a moment didn't sense their relief through the training bond due to his own emotional turmoil.

"You must focus on overcoming your weaknesses, Ani," Obi-Wan told him. "However, we don't have to lock you away somewhere to do that and everyone does not need to know."

"We will put you through a strict regimen of tests and training, but how long this takes will depend on you giving it your full attention," Qui-Gon said. "We must work on your snap judgments, anger, your tendency to not depend on others when you need to. And yes even your discomfort with being the Chosen One is a weakness that can destroy you. Most of all, we're concerned that you do not recognize the dark side until after you've used it."

Qui-Gon took a breath and Obi-Wan continued for him. "You will have no time to work on your droid or any of your other mechanical projects while training to conquer these failings. And it will remain this way until you succeed, no matter how long it takes. However, you will still have a little time to be with your friends. We will not allow you to avoid the other Padawans entirely."

"Teaching you these lessons here at the Temple is insufficient," Qui-Gon explained. "You will learn best by experiencing and seeing the example of how the galaxy fails and succeeds with these same struggles. Provided you heed our orders and cease learning the hard way you will accompany us on missions."

"Thank you." Anakin managed to smile weakly. "I'll box up my droid stuff today." They could see that the loss of his passion for mechanics pained him, but Anakin was willing. He went to his room to begin emptying all of the extra tools and parts in his cabinets.

"You were right. He needs to be seriously tested," Obi-Wan pointed out quietly. "I feel that it should be on our next mission if possible." Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon knowingly, but didn't say what he was thinking.

"Yes. It will be a harsh ordeal for him." Qui-Gon gazed out the window at Coruscant's brilliant mid-day bustle. They had discussed this test while they were away from the Temple, but had hoped that they would not need to put Anakin through it.

"Ani may wish we'd just given him a simpler punishment instead once he learns of this test," Obi-Wan said sorrowfully.

"I know he will," Qui-Gon answered. "But it must be done."

Anakin sat on the bleachers watching the battles raging across the arena floor. He was high enough to see the entire area. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had explained the rules of the Tournament and what to expect a few days ago. So far, Anakin hadn't decided if he was despising it or not.

Today was one of the Adapting days, also known as the first round. Obi-Wan had said that there were actually three rounds, but you were only required to attend the first. The day before they sorted everyone by age and drew lots on who each Padawan would fight against. Everyone was required to duel five opponents and the rotation would continue until all had done so. This was so the masters could see what their Padawan's strengths and weaknesses were against various opponents and styles.

There weren't many people in the stands, just the Padawans who had already fought, or would fight soon and several masters watching them. Anakin, like a few others, was watching one of his friends while waiting for his turn. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon would come to observe him then.

"Hello Anakin!"

Anakin turned to see Suoicarg bounding down the steps with a couple of others. He was surprised; she wasn't usually the enthusiastic type. "Hi," Anakin waved absently at her companions.

"Isn't it so exciting?" she almost gushed.

Anakin gave Suoicarg a worried look. Usually when girls acted like that around him, trouble was on the horizon. But she's sixteen, almost seventeen years old. Suoicarg isn't interested in me, I'm only fourteen. A small voice in the back of his mind reminded him that Padm? was much older, but Anakin squashed it.

"My master and I were worried we wouldn't get back to the Temple in time. I reached the second round last year and I really hope I'll qualify for the third this year."

Anakin relaxed. She's just happy about the tournament. Good.

"So, have you competed yet?"

Anakin glanced at the boy who spoke and couldn't recall his name. "Yes, I did this morning and I'm up again in about an hour."

"Did you win?"


Suoicarg patted her grayish hand on his back. "Good! I'm sure you'll reach the second round, at the very least!"

"Second round is for the good fighters who want extra fighting or something, right?" Anakin vaguely remembered Obi-Wan mentioning it.

Suoicarg looked blankly at him for a moment. "Oh, I remember now, you didn't attend last time?"

"I didn't know enough about lightsaber fighting to compete and I didn't get to watch because I was uh, recovering from one of the glowing problems," Anakin reluctantly told them. "They happened a lot back then."

The whole group murmured in sympathy. When did this become a group?! Suoicarg walked down with only two! Anakin thought in dismay as he noticed more people had joined.

"Well," Suoicarg said, "it's a special experience for good fighters, but it's not required. If you win three of your five duels you can put your name into the second round."

"Since you weren't here last year, you should know that the second round isn't seeded according to age," one of the Padawans interrupted. "Your name could be drawn to compete against a Padawan ten years older than you."

"You can duel only three times," Suoicarg continued. "If you win twice you get the honor of sparring with one of the knights or maybe even a master!"

Anakin wasn't impressed, but everyone else was clearly very eager. Suoicarg noticed his lack of interest and so decided to elaborate.

"You see, Anakin, this is the only chance most of us would ever have to spar against the best fighters. Like your masters for example. They are busy teaching you and going out on missions. So even years from now when you and I are knights, I still would probably never get an opportunity to ever spar with one of them."

"You'd want to duel against my masters?" Anakin said the words with a sardonic tinge to them.

The response from the assembled Padawans was unanimous agreement.

"Ani," his friend persisted. "Many of us would love to spar with them, just once. If I make it to the third round this year, I'll request to spar with Knight Kenobi. I know I'd lose against him, but it's such a great honor."

"I guess I can see how that would be an honor, though I wouldn't describe it that way myself."


"Grueling, would be more accurate," Anakin told them. "Torture, would also apply."

Suoicarg just smiled knowingly at him. Suddenly below, one of the competing Padawans crashed and skidded across the floor. He was a species Anakin didn't recognize that had four arms. His opponent, a tall human girl, helped him up and they bowed to each other.

Anakin blinked in surprised when he saw the boy collect two lightsabers from the floor, while the girl had only one. Ah, the masters are watching to see how we adapt to not just Padawans we've never sparred against, but their different styles and natural abilities for their species, Anakin realized. I've never fought with two sabers before and I don't know how to fight against someone who has two.

And Lavir has won this tournament for the last three years, Anakin remembered. "So, how do you win? Not eliminate everyone, I hope."

"Oh, no." Suoicarg looked a little confused. "The masters don't declare a winner, they frown on that sort of thing. But we keep score of how many times the best fighters win and if they win against a Knight it counts more. Usually, its obvious who has won the tournament."

One of the others in the group broke in. "The masters know we do this, but they've never done anything to discourage it. After all, they did it once themselves. Padawans have kept score for centuries at least, but it's always harmless."

Well, lets hope it stays that way, Anakin thought.

Anakin bowed politely to his opponent, "Thank you, Llew Thguof."

"Thank you, Anakin Skywalker," the girl beamed at him. "I was very pleased to spar with you, even though I knew I'd lose."

Anakin blinked rapidly and struggled to keep his face neutral. "Uh, you fought very well, winning wasn't easy for me."

As Anakin left the floor he turned so Llew couldn't see the look of surprise on his face. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were waiting for him by the bleachers. Anakin gratefully took the offered towel and water.

"Glad its over with?" Obi-Wan asked him.


Qui-Gon sat down. "Have you thought more about the second round?"


"It would be a pity if you didn't compete," Obi-Wan said to encourage him. "You've won four of your five duels."

Anakin didn't look quite disgusted, but more like he had a bad taste in his mouth. Still, Obi-Wan couldn't help but laugh at his expression.

Even Qui-Gon was almost smirking at him. "It can't be that bad, Ani. You certainly looked like you were having fun."

"Okay, I guess I can join the second round tomorrow." Anakin glanced around as he suddenly remembered something, "Where's Kaely?"

Qui-Gon frowned. "She was here just as you began your last duel."

The two of them began to look around for her. Qui-Gon hunted through the stack of towels and other items to see if she was hiding in them while Anakin looked under the bleachers. Obi-Wan remained sitting on the bench.

"Obi-Wan." Anakin drew out his name in a low growl. "What did you do with her?"

"She wouldn't leave me alone and was distracting me from observing your match!"

Qui-Gon looked down at his former apprentice. "That's a poor excuse."

"That's easy for you to say. That droid never pesters you."

Obi-Wan reached out with the Force and pulled one of the used towel receptacles. As the bin slid over to him, they could see that it was actually upside down. Inside it, they could hear muffled thumps that were nearly drowned out by the noise of the arena. Obi-Wan lifted it and the tiny spitfire came buzzing out. Kaely immediately flew to attack Obi-Wan, screeching loudly, but Obi-Wan used the Force to keep her at bay.

Anakin rolled his eyes in exasperation. "You are being ridiculous." He snatched her from the air and stuffed her in his pocket. "Be quiet and maybe I'll let you out."

"What did you do to anger her this time, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked.

"She found a shiny golden circlet of metal and she wanted to wear it as a crown like a princess or some other such nonsense. She's furious that Anakin is not allowed to solder it on her." Obi-Wan smirked at the droid in amusement. "Naturally, she blames only me."

Anakin slid across the floor, barely managing to keep from tumbling. This was his last fight of the second round. He'd won the first before losing the second contest. This battle would break the tie. If he won, he'd gain the privilege of sparring with one of the knights or masters.

His lightsaber felt slick in his hand. I'm glad I listened when Obi-Wan told me to add extra grips to it. As per the rules, his challenger was not allowed to give Anakin a chance to stand up. Out in the galaxy, someone trying to kill wouldn't be gracious enough to allow a respite.

The other Padawan dove at Anakin and aimed a blow at his head. Anakin tucked his legs under himself and sprung out of the way. Finally, it's getting tired! Anakin had taken to thinking of his opponent as, 'it'. Neila Sti was big, hairy, had no visible face and was bright orange. Anakin had no way of knowing if it was male, female, or something else entirely.

Despite its great arms, Neila was becoming visibly tired. Anakin had nearly lost the match while blocking the first blow due to the power behind Neila's strikes. If this thing is faking to try to trick me... then I'm in trouble.

Neila weakly parried a few more of Anakin's thrusts and began to step backward. It's setting me up! I'm sure now!

The orange hulk continued retreating farther and farther. Anakin was perplexed. What possible advantage would it have in the corner? The masters won't let us get out of bounds, because that would disturb the neighboring matches.

Anakin gasped and tensed as the answer came to him. He ducked and rolled away just in time as Neila suddenly channeled all of its strength into a huge push with it's lightsaber and the help of the Force. Anakin could sense how the air compressed and vibrated from the strike and heard Neila's saber crackle as it struck sideways too far.

Taking the opportunity, Anakin swung upward and neatly disarmed Neila. Anakin tried not to look too cheerful as he felt shock and utter disbelief rolling off Neila. Once he had collected himself, Anakin bowed and thanked his opponent as was customary. After a second's pause, Neila did the same and they both trundled out of the sparring ring.

If it had hit me, I'd have fallen hard and certainly would have lost my lightsaber. I might have even been knocked unconscious for a moment. At the very least I would have been dazed enough that Neila would have won, Anakin realized as he tiredly walked over to his grinning masters.

"So, Ani, who will you request to spar with?" Obi-Wan asked eagerly. "There are many here to choose from. You might even be able to convince Master Yoda."

"I'm not crazy. Like I really need to give him a chance to squish me," Anakin said. "I would like to fight you, Master Qui-Gon."

"You can spar with me anytime," Qui-Gon reminded him.

"It's not the same. Here," Anakin gestured to the arena, "you aren't allowed to hold back."

The arena was full as everyone waited for the Third Round to begin, the Padawans and all of the young children eager to watch. The list of who the Padawans had requested to fight had been circulated the night before. They were especially excited to hear that both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were asked to spar. Neither of them had participated in the Tournament in five years, due mainly to the fact they had been absent from the Temple at each time or otherwise unavailable.

"Please!" Anakin called out as he followed his masters towards the arena doors.


"Obi-Wan has gone all out before! I survived."

Qui-Gon looked sharply at Obi-Wan.

"Not with you anyway," Anakin added and turned to look up at Qui-Gon.

"You know I can fight you 'all out' as you call it, at any time. Take this opportunity to spar against someone else, or no one at all if you prefer."

"I mean no disrespect, but that's a lousy evasion, Master. You will one day, but that will probably be years from now. This is the only way and the only time I can be sure you won't hold back."

Qui-Gon didn't like that. He liked it even less when Obi-Wan said, "Ani's right."

"Anakin, you are still growing," Qui-Gon explained. "It's not safe to put you through this."

"Please," Anakin persisted. "It's not like you have to worry about chopping off my hand or something."

"Even a low-powered blade can break your arm."

"And the Healers would be happy to mend it," Anakin quipped. And I've fought with a broken arm before. Anakin could sense that Qui-Gon was remembering the same thing.

"I can do this," Anakin almost whispered.

"Very well," Qui-Gon relented.

Anakin and Qui-Gon waited in the center of the arena until their names were announced. Anakin knew that the rest of the Jedi would be surprised that he was fighting one of his own masters. However, he also knew his explanation of why would be known throughout the Temple before sundown.

Remaining completely calm, Anakin scanned Qui-Gon's face and presence in the Force. I've got to move fast. This fight won't last long. I'll get in three, maybe four moves before Master Qui-Gon wins.

The crowd went silent as the Arena master left the floor. One clear chime echoed in the cavernous room, signaling that the fighters could begin. Anakin decided to take the initiative and attack first, even though it wasn't his style.

Master Qui-Gon knows every move I can do. Maybe if I don't stick to my favorite tactics, I'll last longer.

Qui-Gon's first block nearly knocked Anakin to the ground. His arms were strained badly and Anakin's blade itself had rebounded back so hard it nearly hit him in the nose.

And I thought that Lavir and that big orange Padawan I fought yesterday were strong!

Anakin had known that Qui-Gon would far surpass the Padawans and maybe even be a little better than Obi-Wan. But he was unprepared for this much. The only reason Anakin didn't lose his lightsaber from Qui-Gon's first parry was because he'd held it in a frontal strike.

Taking a chance, Anakin quickly decided to just attack Qui-Gon from the side. Trusting his speed to work in his favor Anakin struck. Qui-Gon had to block a one-handed rather than a two-handed grip due to the speed of Anakin's blow towards his vulnerable ribs. The less power in the block was much easier for Anakin to withstand.

However, Anakin knew he wouldn't last long once Qui-Gon went on the offensive. His master's first attack was a wide swing at his mid-section that Anakin wisely chose to dodge. He was quick, but not enough to save his elbow from being burnt. Anakin danced backward and held onto his lightsaber with all of his might as Qui-Gon struck again. His block held, barely. Anakin could feel the faint heat from Qui-Gon's blade brush lightly against his shoulder. Anakin struggled to push it back.

Maybe I was a little too flippant about not worrying about breaking bones. I've only got one chance to lose gracefully. Anakin tried to relax and let the Force flow. It buffeted him, demanding to be heard and wanting to surround him. Out of a long practiced habit, Anakin only let in as much as he felt he could control. But this time, he felt like trying something new.

If it works it might be fun, if it doesn't, well, it's no loss. I'm going to lose no matter what I try against Master Qui-Gon.

Anakin gambled. Opening himself fully, he let the Force crash into him as much as it liked. He'd never before done that voluntarily. When the Force overwhelmed Anakin it was during one of his glowing episodes, and he had to fight with all his strength to stop it. Anakin didn't know if doing it on purpose would cause him to lose control and glow or not.

As if in slow motion, Anakin saw Qui-Gon's green lightsaber heading for the side of his left shoulder and knew that he'd never parry it in time. If that blow landed the match would be over. In a daze he felt himself vault upward out of harm's way, despite how very high Qui-Gon's blade was. He swung down to shove Qui-Gon's lightsaber out from beneath him, so that he could land without danger.

Qui-Gon's lightsaber was far to his right at the end of his swing when Anakin's feet hit the floor. In a flash, he struck out to try to earn a killing point. Qui-Gon's quick reflexes did succeed in deterring Anakin's blade from hitting his ribs, however it grazed his unprotected forearm.

Yes! I got him! Anakin crowed silently. He knew it would probably be the only hit he'd succeed in the entire match.

Qui-Gon stepped back two paces. It wasn't exactly a retreat. Qui-Gon didn't move far, but it was enough to surprise the crowd. Anakin pressed onward and hardly noticed that Qui-Gon's overwhelmingly powerful strikes and parries weren't quite so hard to withstand and that Qui-Gon's blade wasn't getting through his defenses to scorch him anymore.

My head feels fuzzy. But at least I'm not glowing or anything bizarre like that.

Anakin struggled to retain a hold on the Force instead of the Force holding him and dragging him along for the ride. Anakin's eyes drooped lazily and suddenly he began driving Qui-Gon backward across the floor. His master skillfully blocked and returned every move Anakin made, but he had no choice but to continue to give ground. Neither could gain a scoring hit.

Qui-Gon finally creased giving ground. Their sabers crackled loudly against each other and Qui-Gon put all of his strength into holding Anakin's blade downward. It should have disarmed the Padawan, but instead became a deadlock. Though Anakin's smaller arms were visibly shaking from the effort, he withstood it. In one smooth motion, Qui-Gon bent his knees and pivoted around bringing himself shoulder to shoulder beside Anakin. He pushed his own saber against Anakin's and used his elbow to shove Anakin's arm down. Anakin stumbled and lost his grip.

Before Anakin's lightsaber even hit the floor, he was already moving. He raised up his right knee and knocked the base of Qui-Gon's lightsaber sending it flying high into the air. A seasoned fighter would have called his own blade to his hand and won the match then and there. However, Anakin had kicked his leg too high and out of exhaustion, lost his balance.

Anakin landed on his back hard and his head bounced on the arena floor. His vision blurred and he blinked rapidly to try to clear it. Anakin managed to focus enough to see his master's now deactivated lightsaber fall back down and land neatly in Qui-Gon's hand. Within a second, Anakin's flew over to land in his master's other hand.

Oh, well. I knew I was going to lose. I'm just glad I didn't lose badly. Anakin promptly gave into blissful unconsciousness.

Padawan Lavir Ruoy was having the most spectacular lightsaber battle of his life. It was what every talented dueler strove for. One on one, no holding back and against the one person he had always wanted to test his skill against. And in the best place, the Arena, with the entire Temple watching and cheering him on. The kind of fight that he could only dreamed about.

Though to be frank, dreams usually were not this painful.

Lavir ducked another swing to his head and lashed out in return. His attacker feinted to the left catching Lavir by surprise. He stumbled back and flinched when the blade jabbed his chin. If it had been just a few centimeters higher, it would have qualified as a kill point and the fight would have been over.

Lavir backed up and chose his next moves with more caution. His opponent's agility, speed, strength and even his height were almost equal. Lavir decided that the only real advantage this man had over him was experience.

A hefty advantage indeed.

One of the stipulations of arena fighting that Lavir didn't like was the no talking rule. It wasn't truly a rule so much as a necessity. Even during the times when the huge crowd's noise reduced to a lull, any words spoken were unlikely to be heard. Lavir enjoyed pointing out the other fighters weaknesses and complimenting their well-executed moves as the fight progressed. To not do so was irritating, but also a moot point. Lavir could already feel his jaw swelling along with stinging from the burn.

Lavir moved in for an upper strike, but was caught off guard when it missed completely. His opponent had sidestepped the blow entirely and took the time to deliberately run his lightsaber blade along Lavir's left arm from wrist to shoulder. Lavir retreated again.

However, he did not get far. The other fighter chose to go on the offensive and jabbed at Lavir's chest. He raised his blade horizontally to push the attacking lightsaber's point up out of danger and was startled that it wasn't there. It was another feint. Lavir began to jump as he realized that his opponent was going for a leg sweep. He wasn't fast enough and the lightsaber caught his toes. His boots protected him, but it ruined Lavir's balance and he crashed.

Yet, the battle wasn't quite over. Lavir was ready to fight his way off the floor. He landed hard on his side, and blocked the strike to his head one-handed. Lavir pushed the other blade back in order to give himself the room to roll backwards and regain his feet. Despite his speed the next blow caught his ribs and he was only able to get into a crouch. His attacker rained strikes down on him and wouldn't let Lavir stand up.

Though Lavir was at a serious disadvantage, he knew that there was a chance at hitting his opponent's legs if he could only stop the barrage from above. His left arm throbbed in protest as he put all of his weight on his palm, struck out with his lightsaber in his right hand, and launched both feet at his attacker's knees. It was a very awkward move, and risky, but the Force kept him from falling.

Naturally, the Force was with the other man as well and he jumped into the air easily clearing Lavir's kick. Again, Lavir had no choice but to roll away, because this time he was in danger of being landed on. Lavir's left wrist locked on him and it hindered him from moving far enough away. He knew that this would be a good time to yield, but he hoped that he'd have a chance to lose gracefully. Yielding was an embarrassment.

It didn't surprise Lavir when he couldn't prevent a blow to his vulnerable legs. The other fighter pushed back Lavir's own lightsaber blade so much it connected with Lavir's lower thighs and knees leaving a long burn. His opponent was merciful and didn't press harder, but let up and placed his blade lightly beside Lavir's neck.

Lavir took his defeat as graciously as possible and his opponent helped him up. Lavir bowed politely to him and was disappointed that he couldn't thank him properly due to his burnt and swollen jaw. Instead, Lavir could only limp off the sparring floor. His only real regret was that he never succeeded in getting even one hit in.

"Ani," a familiar voice repeated. "Ani."

Anakin unwillingly opened his eyes and frowned in confusion at the unfamiliar high ceiling. It took him a moment to remember he was in the arena. He groaned quietly.

"Can't I just sleep here?"

"The healers have pronounced you fit to rise, so get up," Qui-Gon ordered.

Anakin hauled himself into a sitting position and winced. He ached all over and not just because they'd laid him out on a hard bench. Anakin examined his burns. Oh good, they already patched me up.

Anakin carefully dropped his legs over the bench and put his feet on the floor, but didn't try to stand. He reached up to rub the back of his head and encountered another patch to reduce the swelling there. He looked at Qui-Gon ruefully.

"I knew you were going to beat me, but couldn't you at least look like you didn't walk away unscathed?"

Qui-Gon laughed at the indignant tone in Anakin's voice. "I have this." He gestured to the bacta patch on his right forearm.

"That's nothing," Anakin half grumbled and half-smiled. But I did get him!

"I was impressed, Padawan," Qui-Gon said seriously. "You fought far better than I anticipated."

"Thank you, Master," Anakin beamed.

"Some of the Council were very interested in how you used the Force." Qui-Gon almost seemed to hesitate. "I've never felt anything like it before."

Anakin was puzzled. Does he mean he has never seen someone use the Force like that, or that he's never felt the Force in himself like that? Or both? Anakin decided it was a question too personal for him to ask, so he changed the subject. "Where's Obi-Wan?"

"Finishing a sparring match." Qui-Gon nodded to the arena floor visible through the doorway. Anakin gaped as he saw the two fighters bowing to each other and leaving the arena.

"Obi-Wan beat up Lavir and I missed it?!" Anakin wailed. "No fair!"

"Try not to sound so happy about it," Qui-Gon smiled.

The last time Anakin had been on a mission, he'd packed a whole satchel full of droid parts and tools. He'd spent hours deciding what to take and removing all the silly things Kaely had put in. For this trip, it took mere minutes for Anakin to stuff a few tunics and other minor necessities in his bag.

Anakin looked longingly at his empty shelves and sighed. His hands felt useless without something to occupy them and he knew it would be harder while on a ship. He had noticed one benefit to his punishment. At least Kaely's behavior has improved.

Before, she wasn't concerned with taking chances and would often come to her maker with a scraped up hull or broken and bent arm appendage. Now that Anakin was not allowed to repair her, she was more careful and thought a bit more before trying to pull something too heavy or squeeze through a gap too small for her.

This time he remembered not to take anything really important with him. Kaely was the only item he couldn't bear to part with. Anakin recalled how he'd lost everything he'd brought when the Sith had kidnapped him. None of it was very special and it all was easily replaced. Yet, it worried him that he would have lost something important, like the ancient books Obi-Wan had given him, had he taken them.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had nothing but what they wore when I first met them, Anakin recalled abruptly. What little they had brought when they first went to Naboo had been lost when the Trade Federation destroyed their ship. For the rest of their mission, the two of them, like the ship's crew, had only the clothes on their backs. It was a good thing that the Queen's ship had plenty of 'freshers.

Leaving the bedroom, Anakin went to gather his survival gear. The food rations were in a big box in the kitchen. Kaely followed Anakin and began picking through the rows of ration clips, looking them over. Most were soups and a few had dehydrated pieces of fruit, vegetables, or meat. They looked like rather pitiful meals to a growing boy. Hopefully, I won't need them.

Kaely began to choose them for him despite the fact that she knew nothing about food or taste. Each type was color coded by a small dot on one end and she simply picked the colors she liked. Anakin let her play and clipped the ones he wanted on his belt.

"Almost ready?" Qui-Gon's voice came from the doorway.

Anakin glanced up briefly from his seat on the floor. He quickly returned to the box. "Yes, sir."

Qui-Gon entered the kitchen and took a seat by the table. "Have you thought more about yesterday?"

Anakin didn't look up. "Some."

"We need to know, Ani."

Qui-Gon wasn't going to order him directly. At least he understands that this is hard for me.

"I don't know how to explain it." Anakin winced at his own answer. It was a pathetic attempt to get out of talking about it.

"Just do your best." Qui-Gon was as calm as always, but Anakin could sense a faint urgency in his master's tone.

Anakin remained on the floor and leaned against the kitchen cabinets looking up at the ceiling. He couldn't make himself look Qui-Gon in the eye.

"I didn't block a lot of the Force out like I usually do. I dropped my barriers and let it in as much as it liked," Anakin admitted. "Even though nothing bad happened, I shouldn't have."

"You don't like how the Force flows in you?" Qui-Gon was both puzzled and concerned. He was one of the few who were close to understanding what the Force was like for Anakin.

All the other Jedi spent years to feel as much of the Force as they could and even longer learning to command it. Qui-Gon had heard many Jedi marveling over how strongly the Force was with Anakin. Like the rest of the Jedi, Anakin also struggled to maintain control, just not in the same way. When the others lost their grip on the Force nothing dangerous happened, they merely lost their perception of it. Anakin didn't dare lose control. It took all of his strength to hold the Force away.

"The Force can be so pushy that sometimes I feel like a holo-puppet," Anakin mumbled quietly.

"The Force makes you feel like a slave."

Anakin slumped against the cabinet doors.

"The Force does control your actions to a degree, however it also follows your directions, Anakin," Qui-Gon tried to reassure him. "Fearing your power will not help."

Anakin didn't respond and Qui-Gon knew he'd not gain another answer at this time. "Come," he told the teenager. "Obi-Wan will have the ship ready by now."

Obi-Wan was waiting for them on the landing deck. Anakin quietly walked around and examined the outside of the ship. Obi-Wan took the opportunity to speak to Qui-Gon. "Did you get him to talk?"

"A little." Qui-Gon looked tired and worried. "He didn't exactly call on or command the Force to massively obey him, as the Council seems to think. You were right, Obi-Wan."

"He didn't prepare in any way either, did he?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "None at all, Anakin could do that at any time."

"Could we not talk about it out here, please?" Anakin announced petulantly.

"Certainly, we would have no need to if you'd stop doing everything you can to evade the questions," Obi-Wan replied.

Anakin didn't like that response, but he didn't get angry either. Qui-Gon was already walking up the ramp into the ship and Obi-Wan had turned to follow when Anakin froze.

Loud destruction

Screams split the darkness

The cold wouldn't go away

Burning so bright

Anakin choked on air as he struggled to breathe. Obi-Wan glanced back as Anakin began coughing lightly. The vision had only lasted a few seconds and had told Anakin little more than that there was danger ahead. He quickly covered up his startled reaction. "Where are we headed anyway?"

"A little system called Reh-Ot-Esolc."

"Reh-Ot-Esolc," Anakin repeated, trying the convoluted name on his tongue. It sounded vaguely familiar. Anakin began to grin suddenly as he remembered the location of that system.

"Ani," Obi-Wan said with a grin, "we'll be following the Corellian Run. Would you like to fly us?"

"Would I?!" Anakin dashed past Obi-Wan to the cockpit. It was a standard Jedi ship designed to carry four comfortably enough. Anakin glided straight to the pilot's seat, while Obi-Wan took the co-pilot post and Qui-Gon relaxed in a passenger chair behind them. Kaely landed on the last chair and felt very important to be there.

Anakin couldn't have been happier. It had been almost half a year since he'd last flown a ship and he ached to take off. His eyes flicked from one screen to another in anticipation. Obi-Wan hid a grin as Anakin settled in his chair and assumed an air of command.

A metallic voice rose from the com. "You are now clear to join space lane 21, Ship #7279J."

"Acknowledged, Temple Control," Anakin replied.

"May the Force be with you."

Anakin smoothly guided the ship off the deck. "Hey, Obi-Wan? Why doesn't this ship have a name?" Anakin asked.

"Its another one of those 'can't be bothered with' things you were complaining about the other day."

"Oh," Anakin responded in a voice that showed he didn't understand why anyone wouldn't name their ship.

"Ships are necessary tools. There are a few that are named," Qui-Gon said.

"Yes, a few," Obi-Wan continued. "Most Jedi never feel attached to a particular ship long enough to name it. Ships are just things we need, unlike droids."

Kaely squawked at Obi-Wan's teasing and hissed as though she was too insulted to even attack him. It was just an act. She couldn't risk leaving her chair while they were heading for orbit and lightspeed and Obi-Wan knew it.

That evening Anakin finally found a chance to be alone in the cockpit. Anakin was grateful for the solitude in more ways than one. Even Kaely had not followed him, but had remained in the common room with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. She said she wanted to practice spying. Even though he knew his masters would notice her, Anakin didn't object.

She might actually succeed for a few minutes and hear something interesting, Anakin smirked to himself.

Anakin quietly began calling up screens to investigate the Reh-Ot-Esolc system. He'd never been there, and though their mission data had a lot of good information, it didn't tell him what he wanted to know.

He activated the onboard star charts and searched through them. He scanned the location of Reh-Ot-Esolc and just as he'd recalled it was close to Naboo.

Yes! Anakin crowed silently. Maybe I'll get a chance to send Padm? a holo-message.

Anakin frowned. Maybe, if I just do it and don't ask. Anakin squashed that idea. I have to ask, even though they'll say no. Doing it anyway would not be worth the trouble I'd be in. After the mission is done and we are heading home would be a good time, then they might let me.

Due to how close the two planetary systems were, Anakin knew the expense of sending the message wouldn't be so high. Sending one to Padm? from the Jedi Temple was an enormous cost and Anakin considered paying for the transmission himself.

Grinning, his hope began to swell. Anakin still had an account he'd begun three years before at one of the more stable mid-rim banking systems. He'd stashed away as many credits he could spare from the time he'd worked as a hired theif for the purpose of buying his mother's freedom. In the almost two years since he had joined the Jedi Order it had been collecting interest in the bank. Despite that his money had been earned by less than honorable means, the Jedi allowed him to keep it.

I don't have anywhere near enough money to buy Mom yet, and no income to add to it. He began calculating how much the message would cost and whether not it was small enough to be worth taking from his account. Anakin frowned in indecision.

It's not too much. Maybe I can spare it this time. I might not get another chance to be so close to Naboo again for years.

Anakin looked at the star chart again and caught his breath. Indeed, Reh-Ot-Esolc was very close to Naboo, but it was even closer to Tatooine.

I've got to send Mom a message. Anakin's heart ached at the thought. He'd never received a reply from the one holo-message he'd sent her almost two years ago. It worried him, even though he'd known she couldn't answer. It was impossible for a slave to have the money to send any holo-messages at all, much less send one all the way from the Outer Rim to the Core.

I haven't seen Mom in five years. Anakin hardly dared to think about it. He didn't want to start crying, even though there was no one to see him.

I could get from Reh-Ot-Esolc to Tatooine and back in less than a day. It would be so easy. Anakin stared at the star chart.

So very easy.

The three inhabited planets of the Reh-Ot-Esolc system were surprisingly well organized and neighborly for the Outer Rim. The Jedi arrived quietly and were directed to the largest city of the central most planet, Reh. Representatives met them and gave them comfortable quarters for the duration of their stay.

It was nearing the end of winter on this side of the planet and Anakin was grateful for the thickness of his robe. Kaely thought it was a pretty place and Anakin had to agree that it did have a few unique aspects that he was curious about. In particular, the orange snow the three Jedi saw shoveled in piles along the roads was puzzling.

The sun was deceptively bright, yet it seemed to give off no warmth. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, of course, were not discomforted at all. Anakin had to use the Force to heat the air around himself enough to stop his shivering until they reached the conference building.

Anakin curiously watched the people arrive. The people of this system looked very similar to humans. They had very pale, almost gray skin. This might be Suoicarg's species; they look much like her, Anakin observed. Except she has dark brown hair and these people all have white hair.

It was mid-morning by the time they were all assembled in a conference room. They had welcomed the Jedi and introduced everyone. Anakin had read the report and data about Reh-Ot-Esolc and already knew what the speakers were going to say. He tried to pay at least some attention to their plea for joining the Republic.

The speaker for Ot began by outlining the situation. "Our system, according to all the stipulations of the Republic, qualifies to join. However, until now we have been ignored simply due to our location."

Anakin's mind was already wandering. If things go well here, stopping by Tatooine wouldn't be too hard. It's so close.

"When the new borderline for the Outer Rim was drawn a century ago, our people were ecstatic at how close we now were to the Mid-Rim. We thought that this would finally give us the opportunity to join."

Nah, my masters would never agree. Not just the fuel cost, but also the 'unnecessary danger' of detouring to that rotten ball of sand, Anakin growled silently to himself.

"Yet no one has listened and that division has actually made things worse." It was the representative of Esolc's turn to talk.

I could go anyway. Anakin hardly dared to think about it. It's so close. He couldn't help thinking again. Anakin's lungs constricted as he forced himself to breathe normally. It hurt so much.

The speaker droned on. "If we were only a few hundred light-years closer, we'd have been welcomed into the Republic decades ago. However, as it is, the Senate has always refused to send any ambassadors or representatives to the Outer Rim."

Anakin glanced slyly at each of his masters. They were completely focused on the speakers. Anakin felt about with the Force to see if they were paying any attention to him. He knew that the training bond would sometimes give away his emotions to them and that he had to guard his thoughts carefully.

I could just rescue her.

Anakin didn't notice the representative was talking anymore as she said, "No politician wants to go anywhere close to the edge of the Mid-Rim, much less past it."

Once Anakin allowed himself to consider it, the possibilities began to flow. While thinking of sending a message he had consulted the computer for the time difference between Tatooine and Reh's cycles. Timing the message would be vital to prevent Watto from knowing of it. But I could fly away just before dawn here and it will still be night Mos Espa's time when I arrive.

Reh's own planetary leader stood up next. "This system is simple and we would like to open trade with others, but they will not even consider us. Only smugglers and other unsavory characters will even think about coming here and naturally we want nothing to do with them."

Anakin's heart beat faster in excitement. I'm sure Mom's daily routine hasn't changed much. She's not watched for several hours in the early morning because Watto is running the shop and she is working on repairs dropped off by customers the day before.

His mind whirled as he planned out how he'd rescue his mother. I could get Mom and use the Force to find and remove the slave transmitter. We'd leave and get back to this system by Reh's sundown.

"Also, the protection the Republic status provides would go a long way towards preventing any wars with our neighbors should they consider harming us."

Anakin tried to return his concentration to the speakers. He didn't want to risk his masters noticing his lack of attention. I just have to ride this out. None of the serious stuff will happen today. Just talking. He half listened as he heard Qui-Gon ask about a tour of the planet.

Actually, I could probably leave tonight. They really don't need me for anything. I'm just here to observe, and I can see that these people will probably get their citizenship in the Republic like they want.

Anakin stiffened and snapped out of his sneaky planning. I can't. Anakin had to fight to prevent the feelings of grief and hopelessness welling inside of himself from spilling into the bond.

I can't disobey my masters again. I promised I wouldn't. I promised!

Anakin's throat felt dry and his eyes began to water slightly. He again looked warily at his masters. To his relief, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were still oblivious to his distraction. They were focused on the mission, just as Anakin should have been.

I'm sorry, Mom. I can't.

Anakin was standing on the edge of a frozen cliff. The wind whipped harshly at him making balance difficult, even for a Jedi. Far below he could vaguely make out a small town nestled against the rocks. As he watched, tiny rays of light began to stream over the buildings as dawn broke. Anakin shivered and could feel his toes going numb despite the protection of his boots.

Just as Anakin began to step back from the craggy ledge, a warning of danger coursed through his senses. Instantly, he was alert and searching for the cause of the disturbance in the Force. It answered his query, prompting him to look up.

A tremor and loud crack were Anakin's only other warning as a wall of orange and green plummeted down on him.

Anakin sat up in bed and nearly stood to run before coming to his senses. He looked hurriedly around the dark room as the Force rush began to wear off. Anakin regained control of his thoughts first and ended up using the Force to make his eyes adjust to the dimness.

The room was silent and well heated for the comfort of the off world guests, but Anakin shivered anyway. Kaely was still asleep and hooked to her power cord recharging. Anakin reached out with the Force, feeling only peace and slumber radiating from everyone else in the building.

It's early, at least a couple of hours before sunrise, Anakin realized as he crawled out of bed.

Anakin was far too disturbed to go back to sleep. I wish I could control my dreams and make what I want happen in them. I'd never have another nightmare again.

He decided to sit on the enclosed balcony and wait for the dawn. The balcony was made of clear durasteel and even the floor was transparent giving a perfect view of the city and mountains. As a precaution, a rolled up rug was in one corner for those who didn't like the effect. Anakin didn't care. If he wanted to feel like he was floating then he'd levitate.

It could be another vision. Though Anakin didn't want it to be a vision, he wasn't careless enough to ignore the possibility.

Anakin sat on the hard floor too caught up in his thoughts to notice the coldness of the clear metal. Maybe if I meditate a little bit, I'll see more. He looked out at the still city. Even if I glow a little, there is no one to see it and I can stop it better now.

Before he could calm his mind enough to start, Anakin jerked as a disturbance in the Force overwhelmed his senses. Unlike in the dream, Anakin reached out for his masters through their training bond and felt that both of them were already alert. Knowing at once that something was wrong, he dashed for his clothes and lightsaber. The commotion woke Kaely and she beeped in confusion. Anakin didn't have time to answer. The droid had to unplug herself and hurry to catch up as Anakin ran out the door.

Anakin didn't bother with the ornate stairs that spiraled downward or turbolift, but jumped through the center straight to the bottom. As he landed he could see that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had done the same only seconds before. Outside, a few ships were just beginning to be prepped for flight and the three of them piled into one.

Qui-Gon was busy on his comlink alternating between asking questions and calming the frantic speaker on the other end. Anakin moved out of the way as three more people, guards or soldiers by the looks of them, dashed into the small ship and shut the hatch. Kaely zipped in behind them and was too surprised to scold Anakin for leaving her behind.

Loudly, the pilot yelled for everyone to strap down for take off. Obi-Wan grabbed Anakin by the arm to keep him steady as they rose in the air.

"There has been an avalanche of some kind, a very bad one according to the reports Qui-Gon has heard on the comlink."

"I know." Anakin nodded and tried to collect his wits. "How many people are in the town?"

Obi-Wan took Anakin's answer calmly and was not surprised. "About four thousand. It's a tourist town during the summer so there are no tourists."

"No winter sports?"

"Not here," one of the other passengers spoke up. "The orange substance coating the mountaintops isn't snow. It's called Wonston. It's very cold and clumped together with frozen moisture like snow, but it is mainly made up of tiny grass seeds. They lie dormant in thick piles all over the mountains until spring when they thaw and the wind carries them away to grow all over the mountain and valley."

Obi-Wan leaned back and spoke quietly so only his Padawan could hear. "This season has been unusually cold and the Reh have a low tolerance for it."

Even worse for those buried in it, Anakin realized. At least they aren't covered in ice, but we have got to get them out fast.

Their ship had no safe place to land on the mountainside. The pilot had no choice but to hover while everyone grabbed their gear and jumped out. The Jedi and three Reh members of their group trudged through the deep drifts of orange speckled with green towards the barely visible rooftops. Ahead they could see several teams of rescuers already digging.

Qui-Gon called out to the new groups arriving, "Follow us. We will show you where we sense people are trapped."

"We must all split up, Anakin," Obi-Wan explained.

Anakin nodded and reluctantly headed off in a different direction. All structures in the resort were made of durasteel, as required, so that no buildings would collapse in on themselves in just such an emergency. They knew that most of the people would be merely trapped in their houses and the Jedi were needed to find the people who were outside when the Wonston fell.

Qui-Gon was moving quickly towards the center or the town where he felt many people suffering. Obi-Wan began hunting closer to the mountain wall where many boulders had fallen. Anakin stretched out with the Force for any glimmers of life hidden nearby. "Don't get lost, Kaely," he reminded the droid as she followed him.

"There." Anakin pointed to a blank section of clumped orange seeds and the rescue workers instantly began digging. Anakin didn't stop to help, but moved on to the next place he felt people. Thinking back to his vision, he remembered a set of smaller buildings a little apart from the main town and followed the Force's directions to find the spot where they were hidden under the mass.

Another group came and took over the digging for Anakin so that he could move on. A second rush of warning from the Force caused Anakin to stiffen. Up ahead by the rocks, there were frightened people in immediate danger. Anakin ran and leapt past boulders and other obstacles to reach them, only to find that Obi-Wan was already there.

Partially under a rock ledge, Obi-Wan was pulling someone out through a small opening in the drifts. "Here Ani!" he called. "There are more -"

Anakin stumbled as he felt the ground tremble faintly again. He sensed only a brief warning of danger before the ground fell out from under his feet. Obi-Wan was swallowed up by the orange and vanished from view. Anakin tried to vault up to grab the rock above, but his legs were already trapped and within a second the Wonston buried the rest of him.

"Obi-Wan!" Anakin panicked and spit out several seeds. He probed with the Force and sensed Obi-Wan farther below in a light healing trance.

The silence was horrible. Anakin grasped the training bond with all his might and called out for Qui-Gon. He feared that his limited skills would never reach Qui-Gon at this distance. Remembering his training, Anakin built up a Force barrier and pushed the massive number of tiny seeds away from himself to create a pocket.

"I can't do this alone," Anakin said in a choked whisper. Arg! I'm wasting air! I have no idea how long the air will last in here! I've got to make a tunnel or something, Anakin thought furiously.

The small chamber Anakin had formed with the Force was already crumbling. He tightened his control on the shield surrounding himself. He reached out to find the other poor people trapped in the avalanche. Three, plus Obi-Wan, too.

Anakin began digging towards the nearest victim to his right. As he pushed through, he shoved the seeds with the Force and his hands to pack them tightly together along the walls to make a tunnel. In some places the seeds flowed like sand and in others stuck together in hard clumps. The man he found was awake, but clearly very disoriented. He mumbled incoherently as Anakin tried to free him.

I don't even know if I'm doing this right. Maybe I should have dug to the surface first?

Anakin dragged the man to the small chamber he'd made as quickly as he could. He left the man there and crawled halfway down the tunnel and began digging down. Just as he was beginning to get close to the next person, Anakin heard the Wonston fall. Instantly, Anakin poked his head up and saw that the section that he'd found the man had caved in without Anakin there to hold up the ceiling.

Why is it I always get stuck in situations I don't know how to get out of? None of my training has never included being buried in snow, much less in frozen whatever these, seeds things, are, Anakin thought in disgust.

Anakin struggled to divide his concentration between keeping a force shield around the man he left and digging out the woman nearby. She was still conscious and was clutching a child tightly. The little one was curled up in her arms trying to stay a warm. They were somewhat easier to pull out, but it took much longer to carry to them to the chamber. Anakin fretted over what to do about air. He couldn't determine if it was sufficient or not. The Force continued to insist that he hurry.

Anakin sat the three on the floor of the chamber he'd made. It was very cold and they all were visibly suffering as their skin was turning purple. This is taking too long, I've got to get these people out now!

Steeling himself, Anakin held one hand in a fist above his head and pushed. It started out well, but quickly became very hard to move the layers of icy seeds out of the way. Anakin began to notice that the areas of orange Wonston above him had more specks of green. The seeds that had begun to sprout made it sticky and harder to push out of the way. Just as he thought he couldn't maintain the extra strain on his hold on the Force any longer, the pressure lightened.

"Hey down there!" The muffled call startled Anakin and he nearly lost his concentration. Rescue workers above began digging in earnest now that they could see the trapped people with Anakin.

Anakin was breathing too heavily to answer and had to devote all his remaining strength into levitating the child through the opening. His head was swimming by the time the rescuers caught the toddler. I can't lift the adults, he realized in defeat. I'm too tired. I've got to go for Obi-Wan now, while I still can. The others will finish getting these two out. Anakin crawled to the wall and began digging again.

As he progressed, Anakin fought to ignore his exhaustion. He climbed back down forming a new passage, but this time he let Wonston collapse behind him. He just couldn't hold up both his shield around himself as well as the tunnels anymore. Anakin didn't have to dig much deeper down, but he had to go farther to the left than he had expected.

Obi-Wan's head was covered in congealed blood. The debris or rocks dislodged in the collapse had struck him. Anakin strained to get a secure a grip on Obi-Wan. Now beyond exhaustion, Anakin was on the verge of collapse. Only the Force was keeping him steady and Anakin knew that it wouldn't be long before his mind gave up from the pressure.

Gathering his arms under the unconscious man's shoulders, Anakin tried to vault as far along the remaining passage as he could. He didn't even make it half way. Almost there, Anakin tried to encourage himself. Just a little more.

Suddenly the weight ceased when Qui-Gon's presence filled his senses. Anakin sagged with relief as he felt his master grasp them both with the Force. Qui-Gon and other rescue workers pulled them out.

Anakin didn't try to stand up. Vaguely he heard Kaely buzzing around his head and beeping. The minutes seemed to stretch while he waited for Qui-Gon to finally return from getting Obi-Wan onto a stretcher. Carefully he helped Anakin sit up. The boy's limbs were shaking with fatigue and cold.

"Obi-Wan will be fine, his healing is already progressing well," Qui-Gon murmured as he checked the Padawan for injuries. "I'm sorry I could not come sooner."

Anakin didn't try to speak; it was a struggle just to keep his eyes open. But Qui-Gon could feel his understanding. "I was carrying the injured aboard a ship and the pilot took off before I could leave," Qui-Gon explained.

Qui-Gon helped Anakin to stand once the workers were ready to carry Obi-Wan and the others. He continued to talk to help Anakin stay awake. "When I reached here I found that Kaely had made an absolute fit over the place where you had fallen and the rescue workers had finally understood that she wanted them to dig."

The droid beeped and whistled in confirmation. She hovered by Anakin's head and fussed at the bits of seeds stuck to his hair. Anakin was too tired to care as she tried to brush them out.

"Since Obi-Wan was unable to call for help, I could not have located him so quickly," Qui-Gon said quietly. "I am thankful you were here, Ani."

"So am I, Master," Anakin replied automatically. So am I. If I'd gone... Anakin looked up sharply at Qui-Gon.

"Yes," Qui-Gon said sadly. "I know that you nearly ran away last night."

Qui-Gon was able to easily tend to Obi-Wan's head wound, so they returned to their rooms instead of going to a hospital. The journey back to the city had been one of silence. Anakin was lost in thought and Qui-Gon would never discuss Jedi matters in public. There was nothing else either could say.

Obi-Wan awoke from the healing trance after they arrived. The knock to his head had looked worse than it was due to all the blood. The time it had taken for Anakin to dig him out, waiting for the next transport, and the travel time had been sufficient for him to safely return to consciousness. Despite how well he was recovering, Obi-Wan made no objection to Qui-Gon's less than subtle hint to stay in bed for the remainder of the day.

Anakin waited quietly for Qui-Gon to elaborate on his statement on the mountain. He fetched water, extra blankets, and anything else asked of him. How much longer? Anakin busied himself and held his tongue. How did he know? I was so careful.

Finally, Qui-Gon ran out of tasks for Anakin to perform and Obi-Wan had all that he needed. "Come and sit, Anakin," Qui-Gon directed him to one of the nearby chairs.

Anakin did as he was told and sat stiffly. Restraining himself from blurting out his questions and demanding answers was getting harder by the second. They always do this at the hardest times! Why don't they ever test my patience when I'm not anxious about something? Anakin thought in growing irritation.

"Thank you for being there to help me, Ani," Obi-Wan said suddenly.

Anakin tried not to look sheepish. "Well, I'm glad I was there too."

Qui-Gon sadly regarded Anakin's tense and aggravated expression. "We knew that you were-"

"You knew! Exactly!" Anakin hit his balled fists on the arms of the chair. "I didn't actually do any real preparing. I didn't collect supplies for traveling. I didn't leave behind any kind of record on the ship to show what files I'd searched for. And I was careful not to look up any information when we landed here!"

Anakin's irritation mounted and grew with each sentence. The beginning traces of indignation threatened to flare into anger. He gave suspicious looks to each of them. "Are you now scanning my mind and eavesdropping on my thoughts?"

Qui-Gon stared at him and Obi-Wan could only blink in confusion. Both were completely surprised by Anakin's accusation. Their shocked expressions helped ease Anakin's fears somewhat.

"Certainly not!" Obi-Wan blurted when he recovered his voice.

"Anakin," Qui-Gon said carefully, "you know that no Jedi would ever do such a thing. Also, you should be aware by now that no one could read your mind without your knowledge."

"I thought you knew us better than that," Obi-Wan said coldly.

Anakin crumpled and his face drained of all color. "I'm very sorry, I shouldn't..." His voice cracked and he hung his head in shame. "When will I learn not to say stupid things," Anakin muttered to himself. He didn't realize he'd spoken along until he felt Qui-Gon's hand on his shoulder.

"Your instant distrust of everyone will pass in time."

Anakin forced himself to look up at his masters. He expected them to be stern and disappointed and was stunned to see grief in their eyes. I really blew it and hurt them this time. Anakin sunk further in his seat.

"We were given this mission because it is so close to Tatooine," Obi-Wan said.

"It was intentional," Qui-Gon said. "And you passed the test."

Anakin's jaw dropped. "Test?" He tensed up as began to understand. "You took me close to Mom on purpose just to see what I'd do?!"

"Ani -"

"Why?!" Anakin demanded. "Is loving and worrying about my Mom a weakness? Or is this to test my loyalty?" Anakin said sarcastically. "Congratulations, I chose you instead of Mom!"

"Padawan, that is enough," Qui-Gon interrupted. "After your use of the dark side, we needed to know if we could truly rely on you."

"But this?" Anakin gritted his teeth.

"When we are on missions, I'm counting on you to be where you should be, when I need you, and doing what is right," Obi-Wan explained. "And today you proved that we can trust you. If there had been some other way..."

Anakin was crushed. I knew that things would be hard for a while after the mess I made fighting Lavir and using the dark side, but why this? Why did they have to deliberately make me chose between rescuing my Mom and obeying them?

"If I'd...," Anakin struggled to keep his voice steady. "If I had left, what would my punishment have been?"

The Jedi regarded him in concern while he fought to keep his composure. Obi-Wan answered him. "If you had disobeyed again we would've had no choice but to remove you from the Temple."

Just what I thought. Anakin slouched. At least they weren't going to expel me entirely.

However, Anakin knew that was a small comfort. The Jedi would certainly never let him out of their sight for long, much less allow him to ever leave their order. Not that I think I'd ever want to leave, but being their linchpin to destroy the Sith and whatever 'balancing the Force' is supposed to mean is not exactly what I had in mind when I joined.

"We prepared carefully for the possibility that you might disobey again," Qui-Gon intruded on Anakin's train of thought. Quickly the teenager returned his attention to his masters.

"An uninhabited planet was selected not more than two days journey from here and a team of Jedi were sent to wait in orbit around it," Qui-Gon continued, his voice growing stern again. "We would have taken you there and given them our ship, leaving the three of us stranded. Before leaving on this mission we packed all of the survival gear we'd need and a field com-terminal to report regularly to the Jedi Temple."

"We were prepared to stay there for years if necessary," Obi-Wan told him.

Anakin hung his head in silence as the full implications of the seriousness of this situation finally became clear to him. I came so close to ruining everything, again.

"Would you have freed Mom anyway?" Anakin held his breath as he waited for their answer.

"At this time, the Council cannot -" Obi-Wan began.

"If you'll excuse me," he interrupted. "I need to be alone for a while." Anakin's throat constricted and he struggled to remain calm. It wasn't working.

"Ani, wait, we need to tell -"

"No!" Anakin darted for the exit.

Obi-Wan sat forward in alarm and nearly tried to get up but Qui-Gon wouldn't let him. "Why did you let him go?"

Qui-Gon was struggling to remain were he was as well. "He needs to calm down first."

"He needs to know!" Obi-Wan disagreed.

"After he accepts this, yes," Qui-Gon insisted. "Then he will be ready to listen."

Anakin didn't return until dinner. The teenager had missed both breakfast, due to the avalanche, and lunch, due to his stubbornness. But he had to eat sometime and the Jedi knew that when Anakin had calmed himself he would come. However, just in case, Qui-Gon kept carefully aware of where Anakin was at all times, though he refrained from disturbing him. They didn't see Anakin until he plodded woefully into their small Dining room.

"Anakin, you must listen!" Obi-Wan demanded immediately from the where he was sitting at the table.

Anakin's eyes had a blank look to them. "I understand why you did what you did." He sat down at the table. "I apologize for refusing to hear you earlier and running out. It was childish of me."

Obi-Wan relaxed somewhat. "The Council may not have the funds to spare for purchasing a slave, but Queen Amidala is working to free your mother."

"Queen Amidala?"

"Over the last five years, the Queen has attempted to free your mother many times," Qui-Gon said. "However, she has found that she cannot do it alone. As have we."

"Therefore," Obi-Wan grinned. "The Council has given permission for us to combine our resources. Queen Amidala has the money to purchase your mother, but cannot send anyone to the Outer Rim. She is also ready to offer a home on Naboo, in gratitude for the shelter you and your mother provided and the help in saving Naboo."


Qui-Gon shook his head at the boy's stunned look. "We knew this test would be very hard on you and because you passed, we shall make a detour to Tatooine to free your mother."

Anakin beamed in excitement. "When can we go?!"

"As soon as this mission is done. Another day or two at most."

"YES!" Anakin almost jumped for joy. He could hardly keep still enough to even eat. I'm coming, Mom! I'm coming!

"In the meantime, you may call the Queen. I'm sure she'd love to talk to you..."

"No holo-terminal?"

"These people have no way of trading for one at this time. This system's technology is very simple and mostly antiques," Qui-Gon explained. "At least you can talk directly to her."

Anakin tried to hide his disappointment. I wanted to see her. Over the years he'd had to content himself with news-holos of Queen Amidala that he'd scrounged up. And I wanted her to see me. I don't look like a little kid anymore.

Qui-Gon discretely left the room. Anakin hunched over the com-terminal in anticipation. It was agonizingly slow to establish the connection. At least I won't have to deal with some busybody secretary or security guard to confirm that I can talk to the Queen, Anakin thought in relief. Padm? gave Qui-Gon her personal comlink frequency.

Finally the device registered the signal's completion. "Hello, this is Anakin Skywalker calling Padm?."

Anakin settled in to wait. On the other end someone would have to notice the comlink's blinking or beeping and then key the message. To his surprise the response was almost immediate.

"Anakin! I almost didn't recognize your voice," Padm? replied eagerly. "I didn't realize it had already started to grow deeper."

Anakin's face turned bright red. Now I am glad she can't see me. Anakin was disgusted with his instant reaction and tried to hide his blush even though no one could see it.

"You must be almost fifteen now. Right?"

"Uh, yes I'm pretty close, about fourteen and three quarters or so," Anakin stammered out. I sound dumb. Where's all that boldness when I need it? "I want to thank you, Padm?. Master Qui-Gon told me that you've been trying to free my Mom for years now." Anakin could hardly contain his happiness. "I didn't know that."

"You are more than welcome, Ani," Padm? said cheerfully. Anakin could imagine her lovely smile. "I'm only sorry I couldn't do so sooner."

Anakin was naturally a little curious about why she never could before, but didn't feel that he had a right to ask. However, Padm? chose to explain anyway.

"The bureaucrats have put me off again and again," she told him and her voice becoming tinged with anger. "At first they said we had to put all our effort in recovering from the Trade Federation's occupation and battle damage."

"Unfortunately, they were right, Padm?," Anakin interjected. "Your people come first."

A soft sigh, barely audible, came from the com. "Later, their excuses were even more irritating. They'd go on about the dangers of the Outer Rim, the cost of the ship, transportation, fuel, armed guards to safely get to Tatooine, and the hefty price of a slave -"

"Who may or may not be for sale," Anakin finished Padm?'s sentence for her. "Sounds familiar. The Jedi Council is very good at finding excuses too."

"I told them that I was going to free Shmi, regardless of the expense," Padm? continued. "They finally realized I was serious and changed their tactics to 'we'll have the extra funds to free Shmi Skywalker next year.'"

Anakin couldn't help but smirk at the semi-menacing tone in Padm?'s voice. "I'd have liked to see those idiot politicians' faces when they discovered they couldn't stop you."

Padm? laughed. "They were a bit shocked when they found out what I'd hidden in the new 'Restoration Project' - after they'd already passed it, of course."

Anakin grinned. I bet they were! After the Neimodian's defeat, you'd think they'd have guessed that going up against my Padm? would guarantee their failure!

"Everything is ready for your mother," Padm? told him. "A house of her own and servants to care for it. She will lack nothing, Anakin, I promise you."

"Thank you." Anakin's voice cracked embarrassingly, but for once he didn't care.

"Now, tell me about you," Padm? asked. "How is your training coming?"

Anakin relaxed blissfully in his chair. "It's amazing..."

"Anakin," Obi-Wan murmured quietly. "Try not to look so paranoid."

The three Jedi wandered unobtrusively through the streets of Mos Espa. Or rather, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were unobtrusive. Anakin threw dark looks at every person they passed.

"You are too tense, Ani," Qui-Gon pointed out. "You are even glaring at the droids."

Kaely was hovered behind them and squeaked in surprise at Qui-Gon's statement. "He doesn't mean you," Anakin told her.

Anakin relaxed a little and reduced his glaring to brief irritated glances. "I won't feel safe until we are in the ship and are at lightspeed. And after I've triple checked that Mom doesn't have a second slave transmitter hidden in her or something."

Qui-Gon looked sharply at the teenager. Anakin had anxiously watched for trouble the whole journey, even while they were out in the desert. It had worried Obi-Wan from the start. By the time they began to skirt the edges of the city, Qui-Gon became concerned as well. Anakin had expressed his disgust of Tatooine before, but never with such vehemence bordering on hatred. They could sense it rolling off of him in waves.

They easily slipped into the slaves' quarter unnoticed. It was a typical Tatooine morning, blindingly bright and sunny. There were a moderate number of slaves going to and fro in the street. Just enough of them for the Jedi to blend in.

Anakin scanned the area in depth, hunting for the soft, comforting presence of his mother. I had such little control of the Force before, that I never could sense her clearly. As he walked down the familiar road he couldn't shake the creepy feeling that coming back here gave him. I was going to come free all the slaves one day. Maybe in a few years I can.

At Shmi Skywalker's door, Qui-Gon held out a hand to stop Anakin. "I will go in first. She will recognize me."

Anakin felt insulted, but remained where he was. "Mom will know it's me! I don't look that different!"

Qui-Gon used the old code Anakin remembered and they swiftly vanished through the door. In the dim interior, Anakin could barely see the shape of his mother standing in the hallway.

"Ani!" Shmi threw her arms around her son at once.

"I'm here, Mom," Anakin choked out.

Shmi looked up at the boy who now towered over her. "You've grown so much!" she glanced down at the brown Jedi robe she was clutching, noticing how Anakin was dressed. Shmi smiled in delight and turned to her guests.

"Welcome, Qui-Gon," Shmi greeted him and then looked at the other Jedi.

"I am Obi-Wan Kenobi," the young man said as he stepped forward.

Shmi smiled. "I'm pleased to meet you."

"We have come to free you," Qui-Gon told her, but from the look in Shmi's eyes they could see that she had already guessed that.

"Watto has never met Obi-Wan, so he will go to negotiate with him." Anakin carefully didn't say the word 'buy'.

"You have come at a good time. Watto has been trying to sell me for months now, but the price he is asking is far too high." Shmi was facing the Jedi and so missed seeing the look of murder on Anakin's face.

"We can meet whatever price he asks," Qui-Gon promised her.

Its not too late, everything will be fine. Anakin hugged his mother and took in the familiar sounds and smells of his old home. The oil and grease of droid parts, the sweet scent of crushed Noitol leaves whose oil his mother used to protect her skin from the strong rays of the sun, and the sound of C-3PO's startled yelp.

"Hey, Threepio!"

"Oh, my! Master Anakin I am so glad -" Threepio stopped talking when a tiny pink droid whizzed around his head. "What's this?"

"This is Kaely, I made her a little over two years ago," Anakin introduced them. "Kaely, meet Threepio. I built him, too."

"Hello, I am C-3PO human cyborg rela -"

Kaely interrupted the protocol droid's spiel with a loud screech and tittered at him jealously.

"How rude!"

At last! Anakin thought in relief as they finally reached their ship. I wish we had hired a speeder or had landed closer to the city at least. Anakin looked at his mother's tired face with concern. Kaely and Threepio had slowed them down the most during their trek. Qui-Gon had been forced to actually threaten both droids with being deactivated to get them to hush.

Obi-Wan went ahead and opened the hatch. Anakin stayed back to keep pace with Shmi's slow and tired walk. Mom is strong, but it was a long walk in the sun.

Anakin and Qui-Gon got Shmi aboard as quickly as they could and took her to the main room. Qui-Gon shut the hatch and went to the cockpit to help Obi-Wan with the preflight sequence. Anakin had just fetched his mother a cool drink of water in the galley, when Obi-Wan returned from the cockpit

"Anakin, we have a mission."

Anakin stopped to look at him in confusion. "Already?"

"There has been an emergency and we are the only Jedi in this region of space," Obi-Wan explained and a dismayed look crossed his face. "We can't take your mother there."

No!! Anakin's face was a mass of pain. He wanted to scream and yell, but knew he could do neither. Obi-Wan's right, but I just got Mom back!

"Qui-Gon is contacting the Naboo. They will send a ship to meet us at a safe spaceport on the edge of the Mid-Rim."

Anakin stared out into space. I know what this means. After this mission we will just be sent on another. I won't get to see Padm?, and I'll have to say goodbye to Mom with in a day, instead of the week I was hoping for. He took a shuddering breath. We might not even go near Naboo again for years.

"It is your duty, Ani," Shmi kissed her son's forehead gently. "This is the way it must be."

"I want you to have my savings account I started to free you." Anakin dug into his belt pouch for the datachip that contained the codes.

"I will not need it."

"I know, but use it for the extra things you've never even dreamed of buying!"

"Anakin," Shmi shook her head and smiled. "While on Naboo, I will get a small job," Anakin opened his mouth to interrupt but Shmi stopped him. "You know I could never sit and do nothing. Everything I earn will go towards sending holo-messages to you. Save your money for replying to me."

"Okay," Anakin agreed reluctantly. I didn't think of that. Mom's right. I won't be able to earn more money, so I'd have no way of answering. "But don't you work hard!"

"I promise." Shmi's eyes began to water faintly. "Nothing strenuous."

Shmi wrapped her arms around the young man and grieved to be parted from him again so soon. Anakin gathered her close and kissed his mother's forehead, just as she had done countless times for him.

The End

Original cover design by Julie, the author. HTML formatting copyright 2001 TheForce.Net LLC.