Shmi and Qui-Gon, over tea and conversation, discover warm feelings in the chill night air of Tatooine
It was a few hours before dawn when Qui-Gon, half-asleep between dreams on the living area floor, heard the boy's mother pad softly to the door of the hovel. He politely feigned sleep, aware that she was trying hard not to wake him, nor his Gungan companion snoring softly on the kitchen floor. She was concerned about Anakin, and Qui-Gon felt this feeling diminish in her once she got outside. The boy, he gathered, was asleep in the pod.
When she did not return, Qui-Gon stirred and came outside as well, his grey poncho wrapped around him like a blanket against the chill night air. Shmi was sitting on the steps, watching her son sleep, now covered with a blanket she must have placed over him. The droids were there too but had powered down for the night. Her long dark hair was down, twisted into a much looser braid than the way she wore it gathered at the nape of her neck during the day. She sat with her arms crossed in her lap, clutching a dark handmade shawl about her shoulders. She seemed to him the most noble woman he had ever seen. Qui-Gon almost hated to disturb her, she looked so peaceful. But she was unsettled, and if there was anything he could say to ease her mind...
Qui-Gon approached slowly, with just enough deliberate rustling so as not to startle her. She turned her head, and moved aside on the step as he approached.
"Can't you sleep either?" he asked with a smile.
Shmi shook her head. Then, suddenly, she asked, "Were you uncomfortable? I can give you another blanket--"
He felt at once her anxiety, her wish that she had more adequate accommodations to offer her kind guests. "No, no," he reassured her quickly, putting a hand on her shoulder lightly to keep her from getting up. "I was quite comfortable, thank you. It's my mind that's restless."
Shmi relaxed, returned her gaze to her son, and nodded. She knew he was the source of both their concern. Qui-Gon sat down beside her and followed her gaze. "He slipped outside," Qui-Gon observed. "I never heard him."
"I didn't either," admitted Shmi. "I dreamed about him..." She seemed troubled yet reluctant to give details.
"I'm sure he'll be fine in the race tomorrow," Qui-Gon told her.
"I hope so. You don't know what it's like to see your little child -- your everything in the world -- involved in a violent crash right before your own eyes and be powerless to stop it. In the last race...well, thank goodness the pod held together."
Qui-Gon nodded. "I have no child of my own but I've seen my Padawan--my apprentice--in enough danger to know what it's like to feel that overwhelming need to protect them. He's like the child I never had."
She glanced at him. "Like a son to you."
Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes." They had found another thing in common to draw them closer. Their eyes met for a long moment.
"I'll go and make us some pallie-leaf tea. That should make us sleepy."
He stood up politely when she did, and their eyes met again. He saw her blush and smile shyly in embarrassment as she turned to go inside.
Qui-Gon felt a pull in the Force from the boy's mother. And he would be remiss to deny the feeling was returned. He had never met anyone quite like Shmi Skywalker--simple, yet wise and caring. She was a poor slave, yet she harbored no bitterness nor hatred towards anyone. Instead she was soft-spoken and gentle, and good in the purest sense of the word. She thought of all others before herself, as was evident when she'd acquiesced to the pod race despite her apprehension.
Qui-Gon believed she didn't have an aggressive bone in her body. In many ways, she was the ideal all Jedi strived for, a perfect balance of positive control and selflessness. Of reserved confidence and self-discipline so graceful in a life form at peace. She, without a minute's worth of Jedi training. No wonder the midi-chlorians had chosen her through the Force--if indeed that was how it had happened. Perhaps it was because of the boy--and the mystery of his existence--but he felt some strange affinity with her, and he knew she felt it too. Qui-Gon had been attracted to other women in his life, of course, but this woman was somehow different. And he had thought himself to be getting too old for such feelings anymore.
A brief fantasy of an imagined, different life passed through his mind. He seemed to fit all too well into this little family. They needed a father figure and he had always wondered what it would be like to have a wife and children. He quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. His fate lay along a different path. He had responsibilities, to Obi-Wan, to the Jedi Order.
Still, Obi-Wan was grown and nearly ready for the trials, and Anakin would need an instructor. He would love to be the one to train Anakin, he thought. To be the Teacher of the Chosen One--it would be the highest honor and privilege he could conceive of. But that was for the Council to decide. And there were plenty of married Jedi... Yet Qui-Gon knew no matter how much sense a union with the Skywalker family might make, it was simply not to be. The Force did not agree. No matter how he tried to foresee a future with Shmi Skywalker other than in his imagination, he came up with nothing. It simply wasn't there.
And of course there was still the matter of their enslavement to Watto. He had not come here to free slaves, Qui-Gon reminded himself. Slavery on Tatooine was a worthy cause, one he would bring before the Council to make them aware. A cause for another Jedi at another time, Obi-Wan would say. But right now he must not get distracted from the mission at hand. They had to reach Coruscant and get support for the Naboo. And the matter was becoming urgent.
Inside the Skywalker home, Shmi was making the pallie-leaf tea while stepping carefully around the sleeping Gungan on her kitchen floor. Luckily he slept quite heavily, and his murmuring and soft snoring she found somewhat endearing....as she did the Jedi sitting on her back steps.
She knew enough to know that the arrival of her visitors was no ordinary break in the monotony of life on Tatooine. Jedi did not come to the slave quarters of Mos Espa every day. Qui-Gon Jinn might not be there to free them, but there was nothing coincidental about his coming here and meeting Anakin. Perhaps it would someday lead to a realization of Ani's dream of becoming a Jedi, now that he'd made this connection. If they chose Anakin, they would find a way to free him. And then she could be at peace.
So why did this Jedi make her heart jump whenever their eyes met? She had never met a man who so captivated her, and it both confused and thrilled her simultaneously. She was certain she wasn't merely being dazzled by the fact that he was a Jedi Master, although that was fascinating in its own right. He was courteous and kind, and had treated Anakin like his own son, with patience and gentle discipline. The son he'd never had, he'd said of his Padawan. She could not help but think of what a wonderful father he would make for a child. Or husband for that matter. But not for her, and not for Anakin. They were slaves, after all, not free to pursue their own life paths. She shouldn't even entertain these thoughts; they were only apt to prove poisonous and painful in the end.
Yet she could not help but think about him, about his gentle, steady blue eyes that caught hers so often with a smile in them, about the soft, velvety voice with that charming, refined accent. She had never met a man who even looked like him, certainly not here on Tatooine. Everything about him bespoke elegance, the leonine features and regal beard, his tall, broad-chested stature that even his billowing robes couldn't conceal, and the large, strong hands that she wished could--wait a minute, couldn't Jedi read minds too?
One of the empty clay mugs slipped from her hand into the sink with a loud crash. Flushed, she looked around but it appeared no one had noticed, not even the snoring Gungan, although he shifted position slightly. She put her hand to her forehead and sighed deeply, determined to get ahold of herself. She picked up the mug, thankfully unbroken, and proceeded to pour the tea.
Qui-Gon, ever the gentleman, stood up again when Shmi returned with the mugs of tea. "It should help us sleep," she said again, somewhat nervously. She handed him a mug with a little smile and they sat down on the steps again.
Qui-Gon took a sip and nodded approvingly. "It's very good."
"I put some native honey in it, to make it sweet. It's the only way Ani will drink it."
They sat in silence for a moment and Qui-Gon sensed her worry about the race creeping back into her mind. He touched her shoulder gently with his free hand while nodding towards the sky. Instantly she felt relaxed.
"Look, a shooting star. The stars are beautiful tonight," he commented.
"Yes," she agreed softly, looking upward with him. "Most nights here are very clear."
They watched the night sky a few minutes more in silence, until Qui-Gon said, albeit somewhat reluctantly, "The suns will be up soon. You should get some rest."
"No, first I must say something," Shmi insisted. "I want to thank you."
She brushed back a stray wisp of hair before continuing. "My son has never had anyone like a father, anyone he could look up to. In just these few days you have been that for him, and more. And just meeting a Jedi, it's a dream of his, an experience he'll never forget." She paused. "Nor will I."
Qui-Gon once again felt the pull of the living Force between them, like a magnet drawing them together.
"Thank you," he said softly. "You've been most kind in your hospitality. I wish I could do more."
He took her mug and, placing them both in the sand, took her hands suddenly in his. "Anakin will be safe tomorrow, that much I foresee. You must trust me." Shmi nodded, but Qui-Gon felt obliged to continue. "I also feel that tomorrow will bring change to all our lives. In exactly what ways I couldn't say, but--"
"What are you trying to say, Jedi Master Qui-Gon?"
He sighed softly, his eyes meeting hers steadily. "Only that I'm grateful the Force saw fit to cross our paths, if only for this brief time." He paused. "You're a wonderful woman, Shmi Skywalker. I am honored to have known you. I won't soon forget you either."
Shmi lowered her eyes a moment, then raised them to his again. "I feel the same," she answered timidly, her voice caught in her throat. Her chest felt constricted; for him it was the same. There was so much going unsaid...he sensed in her a thousand unspoken feelings, and he knew she could see it mirrored in himself. He leaned forward and tenderly kissed her forehead. "In another universe, another space-time perhaps... "
It was only that through the Force he knew she longed for the same, and he would never have dared to ask it if he hadn't been completely certain, that he found the courage to ask. "May I kiss you?"
Shmi glanced at him, never breaking their gaze. "You just did," she said quietly.
Qui-Gon laughed softly, flashing a half-crooked, devilish smile that made her heart skip. "I meant like this... "
He leaned forward and slowly pressed his mouth to hers. Shmi was almost fearful of it, knowing once it was begun it would be over just as soon. But Qui-Gon, though gentle, was generous, and for a long moment their lips and souls were joined, as the Force washed over them.
When at last they parted, neither said a word. Instead Qui-Gon slipped his arm around her and she allowed herself to rest her head against his strong shoulder, close enough to smell his hair and feel it under her cheek. For a while they just sat together quietly, he rubbing her shoulder affectionately, she clasping his other hand in her lap, losing herself in the comfort of his arms for as many minutes as they could steal.
After some time he sensed she was beginning to fall asleep in spite of herself. He nudged her gently, with a tender smile, wishing against hope that he could take her inside...but that was not to be, and certainly not with a houseful of people.
"Come on, you really should get some sleep," he coaxed. "It will be a big day tomorrow."
Shmi nodded reluctantly. "I want to take Anakin inside, it's getting colder," she said, standing up.
"I'll get him," Qui-Gon offered, and went down the steps to the pod. Shmi watched him effortlessly gather up the boy in his strong arms, still wrapped in the blanket. Together they brought him inside and placed him in his bed.
Shmi tucked her son in and kissed him softly on the forehead, without ever waking him, Qui-Gon noticed in quiet amazement. She stood watching her son for a moment with folded arms, and Qui-Gon put a supportive hand on her shoulder. She smiled, somewhat sadly, and placed a hand over his. For a few moments at least, they felt like a little family, a memory they would both treasure and were grateful to have shared, if only for a single night.
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