Anakin woke up that morning with a pit in his stomach and fog in his brain.
The right side of his face was stuck to the cool metal of the holo-table, and his back was cramped from still being in the chair. He’d fallen asleep while analyzing intel- again. With a pained sigh and grimace, he pushed himself up so that he was seated in the chair properly, and tried to ignore the popping and cracking complaints from his back as he did so. He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again, getting to grips with his surroundings. It was maybe 04:00 standard Coruscant time; too early for the days’ work to begin, but too late to go to bed.
He stood with some difficulty and stretched properly, before leaving the table to find the rare, elusive working caff machine. It was rumored to exist somewhere aboard The Resolute, but Force knew Anakin was yet to find it.
It took one, maybe two hours for the rest of the Resolute to wake and begin their daily routine. That was fine by him; he needed the time to prepare. Today, another Republic warship, The Miracle, would dock with The Resolute. The Miracle did not get out much- brand new and fresh from the testing grounds, it was shared by three generals, none of whom were front-line-fighters like Anakin.
The one coming in, however, bared Feemor ‘Iron-Gard’ Strahl, who the council had to quite literally order past the Mid-Rim borders. His hesitance might have been mistaken for cowardice, but Anakin knew he had better reason than most to not want to leave the relative safety of secure Republic space.
Qui-Gon Jinn’s miraculous and unprecedented return had stunned the council. The fact that he’d appeared as a Sith, enthusiastically killing Jedi- padawans, even- had left them shocked, speechless and horrified in equal measure. After his disappearance at the end of the battle of Naboo, no-one had expected to hear from him again. And definitely not like this.
Feemor was Qui-Gon Jinn’s first padawan. Anakin hadn’t known this before Qui-Gon’s return, mainly because Qui-Gon had cut the young knight out of his life with surgical precision after the fall of his second padawan; through no fault of Feemor’s own. Qui-Gon, it had come to light, had a special Interest in his old padawans, whom he counted Anakin among. Old informants had come forward to the Jedi, saying the man had wheedled every fact he could out of every old acquaintance of theirs he could find.
There hadn’t been any attempted kidnappings or even attempts at communication, but sightings of Qui-Gon appeared unnaturally close to wherever Obi-Wan or Anakin were stationed. They were lucky that they moved around a lot.
At about 07:00, Ahsoka wondered up to him with a yawn and a grimace, but also a well-rested aura that left Anakin insanely jealous.
“Good morning, Snips. I hope those boots are extra shiny this morning, because we have an important master coming in today, and first impressions are everything!”
“You,” she said, unamused, “Are way to cheerful. And I shined them with Rex last night, thank you very much.”
Anakin glanced down, and true to her word, Ahsoka’s bright red, leather boots were clean enough to reflect Anakin’s face back at him. He also noted that she’d had a sonic shower, cleaned her robes and polished, tuned and charged her ‘sabers. For the first time that day- maybe that week- he gave a genuine smile.
Ahsoka suddenly grinned wickedly, and couldn’t resist making a remark back to her master.
“And you, Master mine? I think I see some drool stuck to the side of your face. And you know, the smoky eyeshadow is supposed to go on your eyelids, not under your eyes.”
She was right, of course. The last planetary touchdown was a week ago, and Anakin still hadn’t done more than scrape the bigger clots of mud off the bottom of his boots and finger-comb his hair back and out of his bleary eyes.
At the risk of humoring his loud-mouthed padawan, he sniffed at his armpit, and cringed accordingly.
“Well,” he declared, “Since you brought the problem to my attention, you can finish taking inventory of the blasters on board while I take a sonic shower.”
“You need a proper, water shower Master,” she dared a sniff herself, and winced; “Or three.”
He handed her the datapad and stylus with a dry look, before excusing himself to get ready. Upon studying the datapad, Ahsoka wasn’t so pleased to find that he’d forgotten to tick just about everything he’d checked thus far.
She sighed, and got to work.
A half-hour later, The Miracle dropped out of hyperspace, and prepared for docking. Anakin had cleaned himself to the best of his ability, and was surprised by how much better he felt. A good shave, some deodorant, clean robes and shined shoes had completely reformed his personality.
Anakin had been curious about Feemor Strahl since he’d first heard of the man. A perfectly ordinary Jedi who happened to go through far more banthashit than any other one his age, save for maybe Kenobi and Skywalker themselves.
Obi-Wan had described him- 6’3, with long, golden hair that ended just past the shoulders and piercing blue eyes. However, he didn’t get quite what he’d expected. The man looked amazingly like Qui-Gon himself, not just in face structure or hair, but in bearing and speech as well. His hair had been chopped short, likely with a pair of scissors, and his eyes were paler and clearer than Qui-Gon’s were.
His skin was more tanned, and his body more built. He wore brown leather robes, and similar, thick brown armor; the kind that Aayla Secura and the Tiplar/Tiplee duo would wear in the field. His beard was short-trimmed but still prominent, and he moved with a careful manner that Qui-Gon never had.
Anakin was even more surprised by the small girl at his side, only reaching maybe his ribcage. She was zyggerian, and wore simple padawan robes in shades of gold. Her big, brown eyes blinked up at Anakin with complete innocence, and he suddenly felt very guilty about the tug of disgust and fear he’d felt upon seeing her.
He had to remember; she was not her people.
“Master Skywalker,” he greeted respectfully, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance at last. And Padawan Tano; you’re keeping up on your studies, I hope?”
“Master Strahl!” Ahsoka greeted, a smile lighting up her face. “No worries. I’m staying on top of it as best as I can- well, science at least.”
she referred to the zyggerian girl, whose own smile nearly cracked her face in half. “Padawan Giova, I assume?”
“You all know each-other?” Anakin asked, perplexed. He assumed he’d be the common denominator between the guests and his own people; now he felt more like the outsider.
“Master Strahl teaches science to the initiates and padawans in the temple!” Ahsoka informed him, delighted, “I’ve been taking his classes for years.”
He smiled, and returned to the master in question.
With a soft smile, Feemor introduced the youngling by his side: “Master Skywalker, this is Giova Nani, my new padawan.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Master Skywalker!”
“Likewise, Padawan Nani.”
Once the introductions were completed, there was work that had to be done. Feemor had brought his entire battalion, so everyone aboard The Resolute had to double up. No-one minded- the 113th smuggled fresh liquor aboard, so as far as the 501st cared, the ‘Angel’ Battalion could take over the whole ship. As for the jedi, there were important matters that had to be discussed.
“Snips,” Anakin said, “Why don’t you give Padawan Nani a tour of The Resolute?”
Ahsoka gave him a look, knowing exactly what he was doing, but Giova was too excited for her to say no. Once the padawans were out of earshot, Anakin allowed the smile to fall from his face.
“So,” he began unsteadily, “A padawan?”
Feemor sighed deeply. It hadn’t taken long for Anakin to start liking the man; from the way, his clone troopers spoke to him, he could tell that Feemor treated them well. He had been polite and respectful of both Anakin’s space and command, and Ahsoka clearly adored him.
But with Qui-Gon’s return, and his keen interest in Feemor as well as Obi-Wan and himself, he had to question the intelligence of taking on a padawan. Giova could be in grave danger and never even know.
“It wasn’t truly my choice,” Feemor started, “I was debating it for some time; no other master was keen to take her on, but she was far too bright and clever for the Agricorps. In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk; only to discover the next day that she’d been assigned to me, courtesy of Master Yoda. He had already told her I’d chosen her, so…”
“I know that feeling,” Anakin said sympathetically, “It was the same with me and Ahsoka. I honestly didn’t know that was something the Jedi did.”
“It wasn’t, before the war. But now masters have stopped taking padawans altogether due to the fighting and risks. So occasionally, the papers get ‘mixed up’ and suddenly, you have a padawan.”
“Who knew Master Yoda could be so devious.”
They shared a rueful smile, before returning to the matter at hand.
“Have there been any… sightings?” Feemor asked.
“None whatsoever; but that doesn’t really mean we’re safe. He was a Jedi Master after all,” Anakin answered.
Feemor stroked his beard, deep in thought, and Anakin wondered if that was something that both he and Obi-Wan had picked up from Qui-Gon.
“Do you have any idea why the Jedi ordered you out here?” Anakin asked. He hadn’t been debriefed on that yet; there hadn’t been time.
“A rescue mission, from what I hear,” he said, “ARC Troopers taken prisoner in the Scarif system, just two parsecs away.”
“The Scarif System? But that’s Republic Space! Who could’ve taken them?”
“From what I’ve gathered, Separatists; but you’re right. It doesn’t make much sense. Fortunately, such missions are my specialty.”
“Well, dropping you and your men off shouldn’t be a problem at all. We’ll stay in orbit around Scarif 1 in case you need reinforcements.”
“Thank you,” Feemor said sincerely, giving Anakin a smile. The man was like walking sunshine; Anakin had a lot of trouble wrapping his head around how a paradox like this man could exist at all. He was lighter and warmer in the Force than anyone Anakin had met over the age of fifteen, yet he also seemed so somber. It was clear that the war weighed on him, and that he was deeply concerned for his young padawan, whom he’d never really asked for or wanted assigned to him.
“Generals?” Captain Rex interrupted, “The briefing has been rescheduled to begin earlier than expected. Master Windu’s business on Florum didn’t last quite as long as he thought it would. If you’ll follow me?”
“No rest for the wicked, it seems,” Anakin remarked drily, and turned to catch Feemor giving him an odd look.
“…Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all,” he replied sheepishly, “I… can see a resemblance between you and Obi-Wan. That is all.”
Anakin had no idea what to make of that, but before he could question him, Feemor had begun walking.
Anakin commed Ahsoka, and told her to cut the tour short, before running to catch up.