The dark, damp humidity was cut through with two flashes of light.
"Who are you?" a young voice demanded.
...He was a child, and the excitement of actually standing on the bridge of a starship nearly took his breath away. Everyone else there watched with a mixture of amusement and condescension, but he didn't care. No diagrams, no holosimulations could possibly match this. Then the Captain came on deck, disapproval, amazement and something else in his brown eyes, and he knew that being on the ship would never perfect unless he could change that look forever.
...He was a teenager, and the blood of his team mate was on his hands. Josh's father looked at him with such sadness and apology, and he wished the ground would swallow him this instant. "I'm sorry he let you down," the man said, his voice breaking. Anything, anything for dying right now, exploding into a million fragments the way Josh's ship had done. But there would be no such luck. He had agreed to the lie, and it chocked his throat as surely as a garrotte would have.
...He was a young man, finally, but the old dreams had lost their sparkle and had somehow transformed to chains, just as binding as everyone's expectations, and then the Traveller appeared and offered him a way out. "But are you sure?" his mother asked, face paler than usual, and for a moment he wanted to tell her he wasn't. But then again, that was true for anyone starting a journey of exploration. Wasn't it?
...He was... elsewhere, and the Traveller said something had happened, something was horribly wrong, and then he could feel it, tearing at him, sucking him in, until it spit him out here, only he had no idea where here was. He could barely recall his own name.
"Wesley," he said, and then the darkness swept him up again.
The next time Wesley woke up presented another eerie sensation of having come out somehow at the wrong turn of the time stream, because for a moment he thought he was back to being crashlanded with Captain Picard on his last mission before going to the Academy. He was in a cave, and there was even the tantalizing, tormenting sound of water somewhere in the vicinity.
Then reality asserted itself. Everything around him still felt damp, and the crash had taken place on a desert planet, with the energy field-protected fountain as their only source of water; they had been lying on rocks then, hiding from the sun, not on soft, earthy ground. Secondly, he wasn't wearing his Starfleet uniform, he wore the civilian clothes he had had before joining the Traveller. Thirdly, Picard was nowhere to be seen. When he looked up, he met the intense, blue eyes of a boy he had never countered before, fifteen or sixteen at the most, who was crouching next to him. The boy studied him for a moment, then called:
"Master, he's awake."
"I can see that, Anakin," said another voice, and another figure knelt down. An adult man with ginger hair and a beard, wearing some kind of robes. A feudal society? Wesley wondered, some half-forgotten lessons in analysing data in preparation for first contact situations coming to the fore. Yet what had drawn him here had been some kind of sophisticated and very powerful energy maelstrom. But that could have been a phenomenon unrelated to these two. It was best to wait with volunteering any information, then, and handle the situation very carefully. Wesley might not be Starfleet anymore, but he did believe in the Prime Directive. Involuntarily creating some sort of cult was only one of the ways things could go wrong.
"I am Obi-Wan Kenobi," the man said, voice strictly neutral. "Would you mind explaining to us what you are doing here?"
"I don't even know where 'here' is," Wesley replied, which was the truth but also allowed him to avoid the question.
"You're on Dagobah," Anakin said. He didn't wear the same type of light robes Kenobi did, but some sort of dark leather tunic and brown trousers. Wesley wondered whether this indicated lower social status, given the way the boy had addressed Kenobi. "Or you could just call it the swamp planet."
"That is enough, Padawan," Kenobi said chidingly, giving the boy a disapproving look. Either Anakin wasn't supposed to tell Wesley the location, or he wasn't supposed to talk at all. Yes, this definitely looked like a feudal society. Anakin did not look happy at the reprimand, but seemed to accept it.
"Well then," Kenobi said briskly to Wesley, "since you do know where you are now, would you mind explaining your presence? This planet is not exactly a galactic vacation spot."
Wesley had to adjust his original estimation somewhat. Since they obviously knew about space flight already, a number of caveats didn't apply anymore. Still, caution was called for. This did resemble an interrogation, and he didn't know how long he was going to be stuck here. There was no sense of the Traveller being anywhere near, and he could not feel anything beyond what he had been able to grasp in his normal human existence.
"I'm not sure," he replied slowly. "I don't remember the exact series of events, but I think it was an accident. I certainly didn't mean to come here, but something drew me in and then I woke up and saw you."
Which was the truth but left the method of his arrival open. He didn't want them to know he didn't have a space craft, or that he got separated from his companion and had no possibility to leave on his own. In his memory, he could hear Picard say "a lie of omission is still a lie", but then the Captain also approved of stealth in tricky situations.
"Then it seems we have a problem," he finally said. "The Dark Side is strong in this place, there was a recent resurgence, and now suddenly here you are, with no explanation. I'm afraid you'll have to come with us to the Council."
"Of course. The Council. We can't take a step without it," Anakin muttered. This time, Kenobi didn't look disapproving as much as he looked disappointed. He did not say anything, though, which produced interesting results in the boy; Anakin flinched and looked contrite.
"I'm sorry, Master," he said.
Kenobi still did not comment, and Wesley, partly because the entire exchange suddenly reminded him of the past awkwardness between himself and Picard and partly because he wanted to establish his harmlessness, interjected:
"I'm certainly willing to be questioned by the local authorities, but I would be grateful if you could arrange for some doctor to have a look at me as well. You see, the fact I don't recall the exact way I ended up here worries me, too."
"I'll bring you to the healers once we're back on Coruscant," Kenobi said politely.
Apparently there was nothing local about the authorities, Wesley concluded, and felt a chill. The farther they got from the point where they had discovered him, the less likely it was anyone could find him.
Don't be ridiculous, he told himself. The Traveller can find you anywhere. And who else would even look?
No one. The realisation suddenly hit him with an unexpected sharpness. He had not talked to another human being for - how long had it been? Two years? Three? As far as all his friends were concerned, he was off exploring the galaxy. He could die without Mom ever knowing what had become of him, or the Captain, or Geordi. Or any of them.
To his surprise, Anakin suddenly said: "Don't worry, they'll help you. You'll remember, and you'll get back home again."
It was so clearly intended as a comfort in response to what he had just thought that Wesley wondered whether Anakin had some telepathic or empathic abilities. Then he noticed the wistful expression on Anakin's face, and the slight break in his voice when he pronounced the word "home".
"Thank you," Wesley replied, and only realized it was true when he heard himself adding: "But I'm not sure where my home is anymore, or whether I've got one left, and that has nothing to do with memory loss."
Anakin opened his mouth as if to say "me, too", then glanced at Kenobi and closed it again.
"I'm sorry," he said instead. Still, obviously Kenobi had drawn the same conclusion about Anakin's original intent that Wesley had. He looked troubled.
On the way to Coruscant, Wesley found out some more information about the part of the universe he had ended up. The "Council" he was going to be brought to wasn't some kind of civilian authority as he had originally assumed but the head of the organization both Kenobi and Anakin belonged to, which in turn appeared to be a part of the executive branch of the government. To make matters even more complicated, they also appeared to be some kind of religious order, judging by some of the phrases the two used, which revolved along something called "the Force". They had been sent to investigate a phenomenon observed on the planet Dagobah, but just what the nature of the phenomenon was, Wesley could not discover. Even the talkative Anakin did not make a slip in this regard. On the other hand, Wesley's curiosity about the unfamiliar design of the vessel the Jedi used for transport did earn him some enthusiastic chatter about all manner of ships. This seemed to be a safe subject, for Kenobi did not object to it in either word or gesture. Trading ideas about propulsion systems and artificial intelligence was fun, and brought back something of his old enthusiasm to the point when Wesley had to catch himself from not suggesting they'd go off to try this one on Geordi and Data at once.
Then Anakin said: "Being a pilot is what makes it all worth it, isn't it?", and Wesley froze.
"I thought so, once," he returned, seeing not Anakin but Nick, Nicholas Locarno, Nick who had made him a member of Nova Squadron, Nick who had been his hero. Nick who had told them they were the best pilots who ever flew. Nick who had been expelled from Starfleet after Wesley's testimony.
"What happened?" Anakin asked.
"A friend of mine died," Wesley said, and felt the shame and guilt of that day return in full force, "and another friend took the blame, even though all of us were responsible. There was no... until then, I always thought that flying a star ship was the thing I was born for. And then it became what Josh died for, and what Nick got expelled for."
Anakin thought about this for a while. It occurred to Wesley that despite his tendency to think of Anakin as a boy, they weren't really that many years apart; three or four at most.
"But," he finally said hesitatingly, "if you're really good at something, doesn't doing it make more sense than doing something different which you're not so good at? You can't bring your friend back by stopping to fly yourself."
"Grief does not listen to the mind, Padawan," Kenobi said unexpectedly, proving he was following the conversation after all, "only to the heart."
Anakin and Kenobi exchanged a glance, and Wesley wondered whom they had lost. He did not quite know what to make of their relationship. His original assumption, of Kenobi as the owner or employer and Anakin as the servant, had given way to the idea of some ritualised teacher-student relationship once he had discerned something about the nature of their organization. Yet there were times, such as this one, when it appeared to be something closer than that. By his estimation Kenobi was only in his early thirties, not nearly old enough to be Anakin's father, but he could have been an older brother in care of a younger sibling. Wesley decided there was no reason not to ask. Besides, he didn't want to dwell on his Academy days; the memory of watching Josh's ship explode still made him sick.
"Are you two brothers?" he asked abruptly.
Distracted, Anakin grinned. "No," he said. "Lucky for Master Obi-Wan. He doesn't like desert planets, and I'm from Tatooine."
"Not the most hospitable planet, true," Kenobi confirmed drily. "Wesley, while the Jedi are all, in a sense, brothers and sisters, you will not find blood relations among us. Family attachment is not something we encourage; it would prove too much of a distraction otherwise."
As quickly as it had come, Anakin's grin vanished. With his ever changeable moods, he provided a stark contrast to the quiet Obi-Wan Kenobi. But then, Wesley knew that teachers who were different from yourself often proved to be the most effective ones.
Unless, a voice whispered in him, you long to be like them, so strongly that it could break you when you realize you never will be. He tried to block it, but the memory of Picard proved persistent. He could hear his younger self say "All I studied... all I did... I only did it because I wanted you to be proud of me" while Picard was slipping into unconsciousness and thought he should have known then that he wanted to join Starfleet for the wrong reasons.
Trying to concentrate on the matter at hand, he said: "Well, most teenager can't wait to get away from home, so that's probably not a big problem for most of you recruits."
Now Kenobi looked somewhat amused. "We don't...recruit, and certainly no adolescents. The Jedi are not an army, you know."
Wesley's confusion must have been apparent on his face. Automatically, he looked at Anakin, who certainly qualified as an adolescent, unless his species aged differently. Anakin turned towards the console and started to adjust the controls. With his back to Wesley and Kenobi, he said, in a tone that was curiously non-committal for the first time since Wesley had met him:
"On planets that belong to the Republic, they usually test the children for Force sensitivity before they are two years old."
Two years, Wesley thought, shocked, then recalled reading about Earth history and cultures like the Tibetans with their belief in reincarnation which compelled them to identify their future leaders among toddlers as well. Still, he could not honestly comment without saying something that might be construed as an insult, so he asked instead about planets that did not belong to the Republic.
"Nobody cares about planets that don't belong to the Republic," Anakin said tonelessly. "That's probably why there are more and more of them."
"Padawan," Kenobi said softly, "we do care. You know we do. But if we were to force people to abide by laws they did not choose for themselves, we would be no better than dictators."
His back very straight, Anakin mumbled an extremely unconvincing: "Yes, Master."
"Sounds like the Prime Directive to me," Wesley said in another attempt to dissolve the tension in the room and wondered at the same time why he felt the need. Nick would have laughed, told him to exploit any signs of discord between what were, all niceties aside, his captors, take over the shuttle and make a run for it. Picard, on the other hand, would have found just the right words to convince both them not only to set aside their differences but to help him get home.
But there was nothing to run to, and no home to get to, and besides, as imitation of either Nick Locarno or Jean-Luc Picard, he was pathetic at best. So he continued to make conversation, explaining about the Prime Directive when they asked, and every now and then committing yet another verbal blunder that got under the skin of either Anakin or Kenobi, though the later was far more difficult to tell.
"What I don't understand," said Kenobi finally, "is how we could have never heard of your Federation, or you of our Republic, and indeed the Jedi Order. There is no part in the known galaxy where either is unknown."
I came here with a superbeing that can travel through dimensions was not a reply Wesley was intending to give yet, and besides, he wasn't sure whether they would have believed him. He shrugged, and declared that it was a big galaxy. With just the slightest touch of frustration, Kenobi said that perhaps the wisdom of the Council in general and someone named Master Yoda in particular would help to solve this mystery.
"I thought Master Yoda specialized in being cryptic," Anakin commented, "not clearing up matters."
"That is not funny, Anakin," Kenobi answered, though the edges of his mouth twitched.
"I wasn't trying to be, Master."
Personally, Wesley thought Master Yoda specialized in frustrating his universal translator. He didn't understand why he could hear every other language in the galaxy rendered in beautiful and grammatically correct English, except for whatever dialect was spoken by this little green troll.
"Belonging to the Dark Side, this one does not," Yoda declared, with the rest of the Council, an assembly consisting of members belonging to various species which Wesley had never encountered before, frowning and nodding. "Yet in one of its centres, he emerged. Confused, his past and future are. With the Sith among us once more, cautious we must be."
And so on, and so forth, until Wesley, when telling about past travels while carefully editing out the Traveller, made the mistake of mentioning Q's visits to the Enterprise. Several Council members at once concluded that any creature revelling in Chaos with powers that strong had to be the Dark Side incarnate. Yoda didn't seem to think so, but he narrowed his eyes and announced that Wesley would stay as a guest in the temple for the time being, a guest clearly in need of healing and not to be bothered with the outside world.
This translated into some quarters with a magnificent view and no permission to leave the high white tower that was the Jedi temple, though Wesley found he could walk through the temple parameters without having to ask for permission first.
It was a very beautiful building, all arches and spirals, and hardly a rectangular shape, with a dominance of white and pastel blue colours. But even in the recreational areas, there was a sense of quietness which was downright disturbing if you compared it to the bustling noise Wesley remembered from Starfleet Academy. Every now and then he encountered a group of children, or boys in Anakin's age, but they, too, exuded quiet concentration.
"When I first came here, it freaked me out, too," Anakin said, materializing next to him. Wesley hadn't noticed his approach and looked around, but Kenobi was nowhere to be seen, so apparently Anakin had tracked him down on his own.
"The universal calm?" Wesley asked, and decided to risk a little joke. "Yes, I can see how that would be troubling to a two-years-old."
"I was nine," Anakin said briefly, and raised his chin as if daring Wesley to ask for the reason. Inwardly, Wesley cursed. There seemed to be whole series of taboos connected to the age and background of the Jedi question, and it was just his bad luck to run smack into one after the other.
"You know," he said after a while, "for a time, I was the youngest Ensign in Starfleet. Which was fine with the bridge crew after a while, but there were hundreds of people on the Enterprise who were on rotating assignments and didn't stay longer than a year. Each time I ran into one of them and had to explain why I was in uniform, they gave me this 'you've got to be kidding' look and I felt like a freak all over again."
"Did they expect you to make mistakes all the time?" Anakin asked.
"Pretty much," Wesley agreed. "With hindsight, I think it was because a lot of them thought I got granted special privileges. Nobody likes people who are. And then there were those who thought if I was special, I'd better live up to it."
Anakin fiddled with something that looked like a cross between a radio unit and a pet spider.
"I can see why you left."
Forbidding to mention that this had been before, not after his time at the Academy, Wesley asked directly:
"Do you want to leave?"
"I... no. I want to be a Jedi. The best of all the Jedi. I know I can be. But sometimes I wish... I wish my mother were here as well. Or anywhere but on Tatooine."
The boy kicked a non-existent pebble on the immaculate ground of the hall they were strolling through.
"She is a slave there, and I won't be allowed to visit her again until I am a Knight."
That fitted with the no family ties policy Kenobi had mentioned but sounded cruel to Wesley. Then again, he had not seen his own mother for years, and even before the time with the Traveller, they had mostly sent messages to each other, with only the occasional visit. Still, if he pictured her, he imagined her happy, taking charge of patients in her serene, competent way, teasing the Captain, she being the only one who did this on a regular basis, and exchanging confidences with Deanna Troi. True, undoubtedly she would be in dangerous situations every now and then, as was usual for the Enterprise, but he had always felt sure both the ship and his mother would come through and would be able to handle anything life threw their way.
Focusing on the other part of Anakin's statement, he was about to ask whether slavery wasn't illegal in their society when he put two and two together, and finally understood Anakin's comment about planets not belonging to the Republic on the journey to Coruscant. So he said instead:
"Not that I don't enjoy talking to you, but why are you telling me this, Anakin? Your Council still hasn't decided whether I'm not some strange kind of spy, it seems, and at any rate I'm almost a stranger."
"Because you're almost a stranger," Anakin said with a lowered voice. "Because you don't belong here. Because you could leave and return to where you came from. Because you could go to Tatooine and free her before you do, if I help you to get out of the Temple."
Now that was a surprise. Wesley sat down on the edge of the next marble fountain and tried to decide the likelihood of this being some kind of complicated test by the Council regarding his good intentions. Anakin watched him, his face a mixture of expectancy and anxiousness.
"One, I'd like to help free your mother," Wesley finally said, "but wouldn't I need currency for that? I don't have any. Two, I don't have a ship either, and three, since I honestly don't know how I came here, I have no way to get back."
Sitting down beside him, Anakin said: "I know how you got here. You know why they sent us to Dagobah? There really is a concentration of the Force there, only I don't think it's just accessible for those of the Dark Side. Anyway, that planet has some strange energy signatures. It's virtually impossible to get any life form readings, that's why they had someone there to investigate when Master Yoda felt that whatever is there grew stronger by feeding from something. So we went to this place..."
He shuddered, then pulled himself together.
"... and for a moment, we thought someone was there who... whom we knew to be dead. That's why Obi-Wan got distracted and didn't see what I saw."
"I saw you arriving," Anakin said, regarding him intently. "You were pure energy. A part of the Force. And then you became material."
His head hurt. Again, he could hear the boy asking: "Who are you?" And the Traveller telling him something, in those last moments of connection, something about...
"...the Q," Wesley whispered. "The Q are at war with each other, and they're tearing the multiverse apart. He told me, and I wanted to warn my mother, and the Captain, but then one of them found us and I panicked and didn't concentrate enough."
He had not remembered. Until this moment, he had only recalled getting separated from the Traveller, and the sense that something was wrong.
This changed everything. He had to get home, and quickly.
"If you got back to Dagobah, back to that place, you could become energy again," Anakin stated.
"Maybe," Wesley said, trying to order his thoughts. "But I'd still need a ship, and I still don't know how I could help your mother on the way."
"Well, you can't abduct her," Anakin said matter-of-factly. "Every slave has a tracer in their blood, and they blow you up if you try to leave on your own. When Watto sold me to Qui-Gon, he had to give him the codes for mine, but he still has those for my mother's. You'd have to buy her. But I think he'd sell her if you offered him enough money. Watto gambles all the time."
"And who would sponsor the money?" Wesley asked, while calculating how much time must have passed since his arrival. Only a few days, surely; but time flowed differently in different dimensions. For all he knew, that energy maelstrom which had distracted him when he wanted to focus on returning to the Enterprise had thrown him into the distant past, or the future.
Anakin's face lightened up. For a moment, he again resembled Nick Locarno, Nick when they had all agreed to some impossible madcap scheme of his. Wesley opened his mouth to protest he had done no such thing, but didn't say it. The Enterprise needed to be warned, but he couldn't turn his back on Anakin's plight, either.
"The Chancellor," he said. "He's granted me an audience now and then, and he likes me. He is a noble man, Wesley, and not a Jedi, so he's not bound by their rules. I'm sure he'll give us the money. And a ship."
Heads of government who paid attention to students of a quasi-religious order had indeed to be philanthropists, Wesley decided, and only understood how truly lost he was when he told Anakin to go ahead with the plan.
It was a disaster. Wesley was supposed to meet Anakin in one of the upper levels of the temple once Anakin had organized the money and the ship, so Anakin could get him to the landing platform, but he didn't even get very far from the quarters he had given before being intercepted by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"I was hoping the Chancellor was wrong," Kenobi said. "But it appears he told the truth. Tell me, Wesley, is it custom on your world to encourage a student to deceive his teacher as a payment for hospitality?"
"Look," Wesley replied, "I remembered how I ended up here. It truly was an accident, and I have to return to my part of the universe, and frankly, I don't have the time to wait here until you people make up your mind about my nature."
"But you do have the time to indulge Anakin in his foolish schemes before racing back to your world?" Kenobi asked sarcastically. "Or were you planning on skipping that part once you had left Coruscant?"
Why was it that he had been able to save the Enterprise from complete destruction at least two times, if not three, but failed as soon as mentors and students and their expectations were involved? He should have told Anakin that the entire idea was ill-conceived, just as he should have told Nick. He should have tried either to leave on his own, or to ask the Council for their help.
Still, Kenobi wasn't exactly in a position to judge. Angry at himself and at the universe in general, Wesley said:
"No, I wasn't. And you know, it wouldn't have been necessary if you and that boy actually talked to each other. Really, I think arranging for his mother to be freed isn't so much too ask, and he shouldn't have had to ask a stranger."
"Thanks for the advice," Kenobi returned, thin-lipped, and rushed Wesley to Yoda. His anger still boiling, Wesley decided that he couldn't leave the issue like that. While they were walking through corridors carved in perfect pristine beauty, he continued:
"I understand that his home planet doesn't belong to your Republic, and that you can't end slavery in general there, but how difficult can it be for an order as rich and influential as yours must be to buy and free one single slave?"
"We don't buy slaves. As a matter of fact, we don't buy or own anything - all of this", Kenobi gestured towards the walls, "is financed by the Republic. In any case, this isn't about freeing..."
"You did buy Anakin," Wesley interrupted. "He told me. As a matter of fact, if I had to guess I'd say he still regards himself as your possession. So why didn't you purchase his mother and set her free while you were at it?"
Kenobi came to a halt. Visibly struggling for self-possession, he said in a low, pressured voice:
"It was Qui-Gon who... arranged for Anakin's freedom. The Order would never have countenanced it if they had known, but they accepted it eventually because Anakin is... there are special circumstances here you cannot possibly understand. In any case, from what Qui-Gon told me, his mother wanted him to go. He chose to go. It was never a matter of," he could not stop the disgust and indignation colouring his voice anymore, "possession."
Someone named Qui-Gon had been mentioned, Wesley recalled, but he couldn't see how this refuted his arguments. Hearing that it had been a mutual decision would have reassured him, but then again he couldn't imagine any woman living in slavery telling her son to stay if he had the chance to leave, and besides, hadn't Anakin said he had been nine? What kind of an age was that to make such a choice?
You weren't that much older when you came on the Enterprise.
That had been different, Wesley told himself, and latched on the most mystifying part of Kenobi's reply.
"What do you mean, 'from what Qui-Gon told you'? You've been raising her son for years now and you never even once talked to the woman yourself?"
"I never once talked to my own mother. Those are our ways. Anakin had a hard time adjusting to them as it was because he did not grow up in the Temple, and I would not have done him any favours if I had offered the possibility of living in two worlds by encouraging contact with his mother. Because I am not a casual acquaintance exploiting a boy's mistakes to my own ends; I am his teacher. Now let us continue to Master Yoda before you find even more things you don't understand to discuss."
On the rest of the way, they didn't talk anymore. Kenobi's usually placid presence had given way to a distinct glower; only in the last few minutes before they reached the chamber where Yoda resided did the calm expression return Kenobi's face, and that obviously took some effort. If Deanna Troi were here, Wesley thought, she'd tell the Jedi he needed to talk about his feelings. Somehow, he didn't have the impression Kenobi was the type.
"Disturbing this is," Yoda said after hearing Kenobi's report, and proceeded to suggest, as far as Wesley could understand through the strangely structured sentences, that aside from Anakin needing to be disciplined, maybe they should consider assigning him to another Master. Kenobi looked stricken.
"No," he said. "He's my responsibility."
Yoda looked doubtful but talked to Wesley next, who privately thought that whoever had the bright idea of assigning Kenobi and Anakin to each other to begin with rivalled Deanna's mother Lwaxana in personnel skills. Still, Kenobi not taking the opportunity to rid himself of a troublesome student was somehow admirable; it seemed Kenobi did not quit on people.
Not like you, his guilty conscience reminded him, and he told himself that leaving first the Academy and then the Enterprise behind had been to explore the universe, not to run away from anyone.
Somehow, that sounded less convincing than ever.
Deciding to come clean about the manner of his arrival, he asked Yoda to be allowed to return to Dagobah, so he might try to reenter the energy maelstrom that had brought him here.
"And then where will you go?" Yoda asked. "Passed the danger could be already, or discovered by your friends. Finding your own path you must before travelling again."
"That was what I was trying to do when I left," Wesley said ruefully.
"There is no try," Yoda said, and Wesley decided that even if there wasn't an impending danger to the multiverse thanks to a couple of megalomaniac superbeings, he had to leave the Temple. Yoda struck him as the likely result of what a love child of Captain Picard and Deanna Troi would be like, if it had somehow missed out all the good genes.
Being allowed to see Anakin again before his departure hadn't been easy. It seemed the young man was grounded, to put it mildly. The room Wesley found him in had no decorations at all and was apparently designed for meditation exercises. Anakin sat cross-legged on a mat on the floor, but from the way he jumped up when Wesley entered, it was obvious the meditation thing wasn't working.
"They did permit me to go back to Dagobah finally," Wesley said. "With an escort so I won't make any detours. Sorry."
"I should have known Obi-Wan would find out," Anakin commented darkly. "He always does."
Wesley considered telling Anakin that his friend the Chancellor had given him away, but thought Anakin was probably depressed enough already.
"He does care for you, you know," he said, yet again giving in to the need to smooth waters. "Yoda offered to assign you to another teacher, and he wanted to keep you."
"He made a promise to teach me, and he'd never break his word. He's the most honorable man I know," Anakin corrected him with an odd mixture of anger and pride.
But that's not what you want, Wesley thought, and recalled again his low, desperate words to Picard when it had seemed the Captain was dying. You don't really want a teacher, or a mentor. You want a father. You want to be loved. And it's not going to happen.
"Are you sure you really want to become a Jedi?" he asked abruptly. "I thought I wanted to join Starfleet more than anything else, and then I realized it was what everyone else expected me to want, and I had no idea about my own wishes."
"If I'm not a Jedi, I'm nothing," Anakin said. "It's as simple as that."
"Being nothing can bring you to interesting places," Wesley commented, and sighed. "Listen, if I do make it back, and if everything is alright, I'll try to return to this part of the multiverse and find your mother. I'm not sure I will succeed - hell, I don't even know whether I'll survive joining the maelstrom a second time. But then again, you never know."
"I do," Anakin said seriously. "I know I'll see her again, some day. I don't know when, but it will happen."
Like lightning, his sudden smile returned, and as he looked at Wesley, it was infectious enough for Wesley to smile back.
"Thank you," Anakin said. "May the Force be with you."
He was standing on the deck of the Enterprise, and everyone else was gone...
....sitting next to Picard in the cave, trying to figure out a way to get through to the water...
... listening to Nick vowing to protect the team...
.... With the Traveller, and the Traveller told him that the Q had gone mad...
...home. He knew that smell, just this side of sterile, but with undeniable traces of various medicines, and he knew the sound, almost subaudible, of all the high-energy equipment in sickbay.
Still, he couldn't resist asking. It wasn't as if the question hadn't dogged his footsteps ever since he left.
"Who am I?"
"Wesley," said his mother's voice in shock and relief. "Wesley."