"I’m sorry, Anakin," Qui-Gon says. "The Council has made its decision, I’m afraid my efforts at this point will not change their minds."
He would not be a Jedi. The Jedi Council thought he was too old, too dangerous – too full of fear or whatever… and he wouldn’t be trained. All the stuff they’d done, everything they’d gone through – Naboo and everything and still… He wouldn’t be a Jedi after all. He wouldn’t become Qui-Gon’s Padawan, he wouldn’t one day become a Jedi Knight, he wouldn’t…
He thinks he’s disappointed. He should be disappointed and yeah he kinda is, but he’s other things too. Mad, mostly. Weirdly betrayed. Kind of… He’s not sure if there’s word for the feeling of we went through all this for nothing? Outrage maybe. Bitterness. Annoyance. All sorts of feelings with Anakin supposes makes him unsuitable to be a Jedi. Mostly thought…
Mostly he feels resigned.
Why had he ever expected anything different?
"What happens to me now?" Anakin asks quietly, and expects the worst.
Qui-Gon hesitates and then sighs, crouching down in front of him. "Well, there are options," he says gently. "There are positions within the Jedi Order that do not require a Jedi’s training or mastery of the Force. Maintenance staff, support staff – we also employ a number of pilots..."
Qui-Gon gives him a haphazard litany of jobs he might be able to fulfil. Anakin listens to it sort of listlessly – okay, some of it don’t sound bad per say, like being a pilot for the Jedi Order, that probably wouldn’t be half bad. Nothing like being a Jedi Knight – but flying Jedi Knights around the galaxy, that could be pretty neat. And yet…
He thought he’d become a Jedi. That was what Qui-Gon had promised him. That he would be a very powerful Jedi Knight, that it was his destiny, that he was meant to be a Jedi Knight – even his mother had said it, that Anakin was meant to be found by Qui-Gon, that this was the path he was made for…
To lose that and then become a pilot for the Order, it’s… Objectively he knows it’s a damn good job, especially for a former slave, definitely better than anything he could’ve gotten on Tatooine. He’d probably be paid, too, something Jedi aren’t, and that’d definitely be awesome, and yet…
It’s not becoming a Jedi. He’d be servant to Jedi, a paid servant, but never a Jedi himself.
Anakin looks down and he feels terribly, terribly bitter.
Qui-Gon watches him silently and sighs. "Or if you’d like," he says very quietly. "I have been given leeway to return you to Tatooine and to your mother."
Anakin squeezes his eyes shut.
Mom probably wouldn’t want him to. She’d want him to be free and away from Tatooine, the same as any sane parent of a former slave child did. But at the same time she’d want him to do what he wanted to do – she’d want him to be happy.
Anakin might find some joy in being a pilot of the Jedi Order, if he could even be one… but he wouldn’t be happy.
"Can I think about it?" Anakin asks, looking at Qui-Gon. Strange, how Qui-Gon doesn’t look all wise and all powerful anymore. He’d seemed so strong before, like he could do anything if he just put his mind to it – now… now he just looks like a man. A human man who, like everyone else, has to follow rules.
"For a day," Qui-Gon says apologetically. "The ship we would take to Tatooine leaves tomorrow."
Anakin draws a breath and then exhales slowly. Why do Jedi do everything so damn fast. All decisions are made instantly, no one’s given any time to think or hesitate. Like in Tatooine where Qui-Gon sprung the whole freeing-him thing at the very last moment, like in the Jedi Council Chambers where Master Windu decided that, no, Anakin wouldn’t be trained, seemingly without second thought…
If he didn’t know for a fact how much time Jedi – or Qui-Gon in particular – spent meditating, he’d think that the Jedi never actually think about what they do.
Not that he really needs to think about this, not really. If he can’t be a Jedi, then – then there’s no point.
"How about I show you around the temple?" Qui-Gon offers. "Show you the places and positions that might still be open for you? That way, whatever you decide, it will be an informed decision."
Anakin hesitates and then nods. "Yeah, alright," he says.
His mind is sort of made already but… it would be interesting to see everything he’ll be missing out, when he returns to Tatooine, anyway.
If nothing else it would give him something to tell to his mother when he saw her again.
The Jedi temple is massive and impressive and cold. Anakin had been sort of giving it a free pass until now, how damn chilly the place is, but now that he knows he’s not staying, he lets himself dislike it. The place is cold and it’s not just the atmospheric controls. The people here, they feel cold.
The other Jedi nod and bow their heads to Qui-Gon as they pass, giving Anakin curious looks, but they don’t ask and they don’t say anything to him. That’s fine, though, Anakin wouldn’t have known what to say anyway. He doesn’t think they know he was a Jedi hopeful who got disappointed, though, so that’s something.
They don’t feel like anything, these people, the Jedi. Qui-Gon feels very quiet and calm, but not like most of the Jedi in the Order do – they don’t… they don’t feel . Now that Anakin isn’t feeling particularly charitable about the weirdness of the Jedi, he decides he doesn’t like it.
It’s not something he’s ever thought much of, but in Tatooine people feel vividly. Their pain is visceral and their happiness radiant and rarely is it suppressed. Slaves, even when their expressions are humble and blank and subservient, feel the strongest of all, because in most cases it’s all they have – their minds and their feelings the only freedom they’ve been given. So they feel with brutal force, their hate like a fire and their bitterness thorny and vicious.
The Jedi feel like blank walls in comparison.
"I hope you have enjoyed your stay at the Jedi Temple," one of them tells him – but she doesn’t feel like it at all. She doesn’t feel like anything. She doesn’t care.
"Yeah," Anakin says, his expression humble while unease and disquiet course through him. He thinks she can feel it. He doesn’t really care though. "It’s been really something."
Qui-Gon coughs awkwardly and then puts a hand on his shoulder. "Let’s go and have a look at the archives, shall we?" he says, bows to the other master, and steers Anakin away.
The Jedi Archives are, like the rest of the temple, massive. Rows upon rows of enormous shelves covered in glowing data disks, easily hundreds of thousands of them. Anakin has seen maybe three proper data disks in his life – two of them broken and one of them part of a computer core of a spaceship that Watto had fixed up and sold – and to see so many of them in one place is a little mind blowing.
"The Jedi Archives," Qui-Gon says. "The biggest repository of knowledge in the entire galaxy. If there is a point of data that exists in the galaxy, there will be a copy of it here."
Anakin’s fingers twitch. "Really?" he asks, both dubious and amazed. "The galaxy is really big. And really old."
"And so is this archive," Qui-Gon says with a faint smile and glances around. "The maintenance and support staff of the Jedi Order has a limited access to the Archive files," he then says, gently suggestive. "If you decide to stay… you might one day have access to some of what this place has to offer."
Instantly that rubs Anakin the wrong way. It’s not just the off hand bribe of it, or the concept of limited access whereas Jedi would probably have a not so limited access . It’s implied truth that Qui-Gon doesn’t quite say, but which Anakin still hears – that most people don’t have access to this place. Maybe no one does, really, only the Jedi. Biggest repository of knowledge in the Galaxy – and it’s not open for everybody.
In the Slave Quarter Row in Tatooine they have a private, cobbled-together network that runs through the whole row of synthstone buildings – nothing like the Holonet of course, but a network of information anyway. In it the slaves of the Row share everything – recipes, suggestions, tricks, news, rumours… births and deaths.
Knowledge , Anakin’s mother had once whispered to him when the times were especially bad and a number of slaves had been publicly executed for half-assed charges to serve as example to the rest. Knowledge is the best, sharpest weapon we have. To know is to be powerful – in ignorance we are weak.
In the Quarter Row, every slave knows how to read and write despite what their masters thought or wished outside it. They study skills they’re not supposed to know – they self teach themselves medicine and science and mechanics, anything and everything that made them a little bit smarter, a little bit stronger. Sometimes it was to up their monetary value – skilled slaves were less likely to be killed. Sometimes though, sometimes it was just to know a little bit more than what was given to them by their oh so gracious masters.
To know that the Jedi know everything but limit the access to that knowledge, it’s…
Qui-Gon watches him curiously, even worriedly, and Anakin looks away and forces his mind still. Does Qui-Gon approve this… this limiting of knowledge? Anakin doesn’t know and he doesn’t know how to ask.
"Do you want to have a look?" Qui-Gon offers.
Anakin looks up, surprised, and with a smile Qui-Gon motions to one of the terminals. As Anakin watches, he activates it and then inserts in a code that opens the term search and file directory. "Go ahead," Qui-Gon says and smiles secretively. "You can look up anything in the whole galaxy."
Anakin swallows and tentatively steps closer to the terminal. "Anything?" he asks.
"Anything at all," Qui-Gon offers and motions him to have a go.
Anakin hesitates for a moment and then takes seat, staring at the terminal for a moment. Then, after thinking a bit, he reaches for the keypad and types in, Tatooine .
He can almost feel Qui-Gon’s drawn breath at that but ignores it as the screen flashes and then the file directory for Tatooine opens up. History, maps, trade status, local trade routes, government status…
Anakin hits on History and leans in to read all about the world he’s spent most of his life on, and never seen more than one city’s worth. And it’s not particularly surprising that he doesn’t know much about his home world, nothing at all really. It wasn’t always a desert. It used to have greenery – it used to have oceans.
Qui-Gon hovers about him for a while as Anakin reads, desperately trying to press it all into his memory. Jawas were, unsurprisingly, the native sentient species of the planet – and that’s where the name for the world came from too, from Jawaese – Tah doo Een e was the Jawaese name for their world. People thought once that Tatooine would have precious minerals and metals and such, there was a huge colonisation and mining boom – and then some minor wars and whatnot. Eventually it was found that there was element in Tatooine that has a corrosive effect on just about everything. It rusts metals, ruins minerals, ages people faster, and so on and so on. Average life expectancy of humans in Tatooine is decades below the galactic average – even people who move in later at life have hard time living past their sixties.
Some of that Anakin already knew, it is one of those things that are just known on Tatooine, but having thing known and having it proven factually accurate by Galactic Archives, that’s different.
Funny, even the Jedi Archives don’t know what the corrosive element of Tatooine actually is. They suspect it has to to do with the radiation from the double suns, it might have to to do with the heat, or maybe it’s some lingering effect of the glassing bombardments that had wrecked the planet’s ecosphere… but no one knows for sure.
Anakin thinks of the hot currents of the Force in Tatooine, and wonders. Then he moves on to read about trade routes and Tatooine’s galactic standing, its history with criminal underbelly of the Galaxy, of the Hutts and, of course… slavery.
There’s not much about that, in the archives. And what there is, is… not actually all that informative. Some statistics about slave species, some points about the methods of slavery, the slave chips and whatnot, but nothing actually helpful.
"Anakin," Qui-Gon says quietly. "I want to go speak with Madame Jocasta for a moment – can you stay here until I come back, please?"
"Yeah yeah," Anakin says, clicking to Hutts instead. Then he glances back from the corner of his eye as Qui-Gon, feeling quietly troubled by something, walks off to talk to an elder human woman, probably a librarian.
Anakin hesitates for a moment, looking at the terminal screen. He does want to know more about Hutts – like, say, most efficient way of killing them maybe, but…
He closes the window and then types another search in. Jedi .
There’s a lot of results. History with thousands of sub folders, function of the Jedi, the Force with again thousands of sub folders, Jedi ranks, Jedi Order, combat forms, diplomacy, Jedi trials, Kyber, Holocrons, Lightsabers…
Anakin highlights everything and checks how many files there are. Millions. There are millions of files in thousands of folders.
There is no conceivable way he can ever read them all, especially not with the little time he has. And he doesn’t think Qui-Gon would even let him, since the Jedi Council had forbade his training and all. He’s treading on forbidden territory, accessing forbidden knowledge and there is no way he can even skim the surface of it, never mind make any use of it…
But he wants it. He wants it all, he wants all of it. And it’s wrong for the Jedi to withhold knowledge like this – the whole Archives thing is wrong but this is personal now. This is what he was promised, and sure it wasn’t really Qui-Gon’s to promise in the end, but… but Anakin doesn’t care anymore. He wants it.
But how to get it, all of it?
Anakin breathes in and and out and then glances around. There are hundreds of thousands of data disks everywhere, he could snatch up any one of them and do a data transfer – but would they be big enough to hold all the data? Probably not, not with millions of files. He needs something better, he needs something… something bigger . But what?
Something pings at the back of his head and Anakin turns, his eyes narrowed. Behind him, there is a display case of – of shiny stuff. They look like crystals, or maybe like a child’s puzzle cube. It’s all in pieces arranged in patterns across black cloth. It seems to shine in his senses and something whispers in the back of Anakin’s head, this is what he needs.
Qui-Gon is asking the Jedi Librarian something and she’s motioning elsewhere. They go together, talking quietly amongst themselves and Anakin stands up slowly and moves to the vitrine.
Holocron construction reads on a brass plaque under the display case. Holocron, that was one of the things in the file directory? Some sort of Jedi thing. Anakin has never heard of it, but when he concentrates, he can feel it – this is, somehow, just what he needs. This thing is exactly what he’s looking for.
Anakin reaches out a hand, hesitates, and then brushes a finger across the weird crystal structure of the finished cube. It seems to ring like a bell, except not in sound, when he touches it and it’s – it’s mechanical. It’s like peering inside an engine or a circuit, except it's one with thousands of layers, a multitude of facets, thousands of mirrors reflecting in on themselves in millions of possibilities. Quantum computing, he thinks, but that not quite right. It’s like – it’s dimensional. It’s a multitude of dimensions, folded into single space.
It's incredible. It's beautiful. And the whisper in the back of his head is right – it's exactly what he needs. The space in the crystal cube’s thousands of folds is almost unfathomable, it's that big. It could store the millions of files about the Jedi, easily. It would be stealing but… it's not like he hasn't done that before.
Anakin snatches up the cube and then quickly returns to the terminal before he can think twice about stealing from the Jedi. He has more important things to worry about than the moral issues of thievery – like how to transfer millions of files into a the crystal cube.
Thankfully, the archives themselves have an answer to that – all he has to do is search for holocron data transfer and the Archive is happy enough to supply him with step by step instructions. Take cube, place cube in angular slot in table, wait for cube to light up, begin transfer. Apparently the Jedi Order uses a photon based data streaming – because the transfer of all of those millions of files takes barely ten seconds.
Anakin takes the cube – which now emits a soft, yellowish light – and quickly hides it under his tunic. It feels warm there, pressed against his belly. It feels comforting.
Qui-Gon is coming back now, though – so quickly Anakin closes the search results and goes back to reading up on Tatooine, quickly pushing all thoughts about the holocron cube away.
"I have something for you," Qui-Gon says. He's holding a datapad. "Here, have a look."
"What is it?" Anakin asks, a bit worriedly.
"Some information about other orders of Force Sensitives," Qui-Gon says as he sits down beside Anakin. The Jedi looks at him seriously and then smiles sadly. "You are not going to stay with us here in the Temple, are you?"
Anakin presses his lips together tightly and looks away
"I understand," Qui-Gon sighs. "This has been a terrible disappointment to you and I am very sorry about it, I'm sorry about giving you hopes that were then proven false. But you are still very strong in the Force and I fear, left untrained… your strength might prove to be your undoing."
Anakin says nothing, staring at the terminal mutinously, while the cube burns, hidden under his tunic. Qui-Gon sighs again. "In any case – the Jedi Order is not the only order out there that follows the way of the Force and perhaps you might find your way with some of the others. Have you ever heard of the Guardians of the Whills?"
Anakin shakes his head. "What are they?"
"An organisation not terribly different from the Jedi in their way of thinking – they are, in simplest terms, an order for warrior monks. They follow a more ancient faith of the Force, one that is said predate the Jedi Order entirely," Qui-Gon explains somewhat conspiratorially and activates the datapad.
He means well, Anakin thinks, eyeing the man somewhat dubiously. Qui-Gon has only ever meant well. He's just trying to help. It's a bit too late now and Anakin is definitely not becoming a kriffin monk. But Qui-Gon is just trying to help, as much as he can with the Council forbidding actual training.
Refusing to feel guilty about the stolen holocron, Anakin leans in to read.
Anakin gets to spend another night at the Jedi Temple, sleeping in the low couch in Qui-Gon’s solitary quarters, staring at the singular rocky plant sitting in the middle of the tea table in front of him. Qui-Gon is disappointed, he thinks – the man really wanted him to stay, or if not stay then maybe join some other order of Force Users, but in the end Anakin just wanted to go home.
"It’s your decision of course," the Jedi said with a sigh. "I am still very sorry."
And he actually means it too, which is both nice and kind of awful. Qui-Gon is trying not to show it but he’s all sorts of let down – in part by Anakin, in part by the Jedi Order. It almost makes Anakin ask, If it’s so damn important that I’m trained, then why don’t you just leave and come with me? ...but that would probably be unfair.
Still, it’s not a happy night and Anakin doesn’t get much sleep – spending the time Qui-Gon meditates staring at the plant. It’s the only piece of "decoration" in the room and it’s not even a nice one. Are Jedi forbidden from making their places nice? They all dress pretty much the same, all wearing simple clothing and they act the same and they mostly talk the same…
Anakin is starting to realise he doesn’t know that much about the Jedi, as a whole. About as much as everyone does, probably. They serve the Republic, they keep peace, they do negotiations – they help people in need. Except when they don’t. Like in Tatooine.
Qui-Gon’s gone to his bedroom now, so Anakin dares to take out the Holocron cube and look at it. It’s still shimmering with faint yellow glow – internal power source maybe? It feels warm in his hands too, familiar and comforting. All the knowledge about the Jedi of the Archives, in the palm of his hand.
Qui-Gon didn’t need to worry about his training. One day Anakin would know it all. It makes him feel kind of guilty, like maybe he should tell Qui-Gon about it, to make the man worry less, but… but if he did Qui-Gon would probably take the holocron away. No, he definitely would, and he would probably be mad too.
Anakin turns the cube in his hands, fascinated by the shimmering light within. He can still sort of look into it and see all the folds and endless spaces within it – but they’re full now, with wisps of data sparking between layers. He can’t quite see into the data itself, but it’s still fascinating to watch.
He would need to build a reader for the thing, probably from scratch. And a system to search through the millions of files. Photon reader, that would probably be expensive and tricky.
He can’t wait.
The next day, they board a freighter bound for the Outer Rim. Qui-Gon is quit as they do, serious and thoughtful and little bit resigned while Anakin looks around curiously.
This ship isn’t anything like the Naboo cruiser. Padme’s ship had been pretty and sleek inside and out – all new, state state of the art and all that, with every surface polished and gleaming. This ship on other hand is old and sort of cobbled together, wires and piping sticking out of the inner walls and the temperature shifting between rooms. It looks a lot more like what one might expect, in the Outer Rim.
"Your cabin, feel free to stay there as much as you’d like. Meal time is twice a day," the ship’s captain tells them. "Mind your own business, and we don’t mind it for you, okay? Okay. Good. Have a pleasant trip."
With that said, they’re left in the cabin, which only has the one bed and even that has just a thin mattress on it.
"Well it won’t be more than couple of days," Qui-Gon says with a faint smile and motions Anakin to take the bed before reaching down to ease his own boots off. "We’ll manage."
"Yeah," Anakin sighs and sits down, pushing his backpack off. "I… didn’t think the ship would be like this."
"Padme’s ship was so nice. I thought…" Anakin shrugs and looks around.
"Well that was the private ship of a monarch of a planet," Qui-Gon chuckles and sits down on the floor, legs folded under him. "In general we Jedi travel much more… humbly."
Anakin hums and looks at me. "Can you tell me more about the Jedi?" he asks and kicks his shoes off too, so that he can cross his feet on the mattress. "How do Jedi usually travel? You said you have pilots, but this isn’t a Jedi ship, is it?"
"We have pilots, yes, but they’re only employed on special, important missions. In general, Jedi travel by buying berths on freighters bound for the destinations they themselves are aiming for," Qui-Gon says and then tells him bit about the more common way he travels around, doing a Jedi’s duties. The Naboo mission had been a special one – his mission had been negotiating settlement with the Trade Federation so he’d gotten there on board a Jedi Order own transport – but it had been destroyed by the Trade Federation.
"I barely got out of there with my life," Qui-Gon muses. "I had to hitchhike a ride on board a droid launch ship. Now that was cramped mode of travel."
"Do you always work alone?" Anakin asks, frowning a little.
"Not always, but in general, yes," Qui-Gon agrees and looks at him. "If you had become my Padawan you would have worked with me, but…"
Anakin frowns a little and tucks his knees to his chest, hugging his legs for warmth. "Have you had a student before?" he asks curiously.
"Yes, twice," Qui-Gon says. "My first padawan, Feemor, is now a Jedi Master himself. My second Padawan, Xanatos…" he trails away and then smiles. "His training failed, I’m afraid, and he’s no longer with us."
Anakin looks at him, feeling a twinge of old pain from Qui-Gon. "Training can fail?" he asks, thinking about what Master Windu and Yoda said, about him being too old, too emotional, too big of a risk.
"... yes," Qui-Gon says and sighs. "Xanatos wanted more than the Jedi Order could give him. His attachments to his homeworld, in the end they meant more to him than my teachings. And so he left us."
There’s more to it than that – Anakin can almost hear all the things he’s not saying. "Is that why the Jedi Council said no to me?" Anakin asks quietly.
Qui-Gon is quiet for a moment and then sighs. "Perhaps," he admits. "If it had been another Knight who found you, if they had presented you more favourably, perhaps…" he shakes his head.
Anakin looks down and leans his chin onto his knee. "I wouldn’t have left," he murmurs.
Qui-Gon gives him a faint smile and then looks down. "I’m sure you wouldn’t have," he says and again there’s more he’s not saying. "Would you like to hear more about the Jedi?"
"Yes, please," Anakin says, and settles down to listen to the stories of Qui-Gon’s missions and past deeds – and all the things he’d never get to experience himself.
The journey from Coruscant to Tatooine isn’t near as pleasant as they way there on board the Naboo Cruiser had been, but at least it goes by fast, with Qui-Gon filling the time telling him stories – and even trying to teach him to meditate. Apparently it’s a good habit to get into, even if you’re not a Jedi.
"Calm, ordered mind is only a benefit to you, no matter where you come from," Qui-Gon tells him. "It helps you think clearer when the situation demands fast action."
"So that’s why you do it and why you make all your decisions so fast, huh?" Anakin asks. "You do all your thinking and second guessing beforehand."
"Well, no, not quite," Qui-Gon laughs. "But it certainly helps."
Anakin doesn’t really get the hang of meditation in the two days Qui-Gon tries to teach it to him – calm your mind is not good advice to someone with a lot on their minds. The best Anakin manages is a state where he can just let his mind wander freely, thoughts coming in and out and going whichever way they will, but he doesn’t think that’s quite it. Still, it’s something.
And then, just like that, they’re back on Tatooine, where the freighter lands in Mos Espa and Qui-Gon leads Anakin out through the freighter’s side hatch and back into the oppressive heat under double suns. After the heat hits him, the smell follows – dust and dirt and filth, engine fumes and rusting metal. There’s people milling about the landing site – they’ve landed in the warehouse district of Mos Espa, where people are already coming forward to unload the Freighter’s cargo. After the cleanliness of the Jedi Temple and it’s people who bathed sometimes twice a day... the people of Tatooine stink.
Home sweet home.
"Where would your mother be at this hour?" Qui-Gon asks him, once they’re made little ways off the ship, out of people’s way.
"At the shop, probably," Anakin answers. Now that he’s not there, she’d be working there in his stead. "You don’t have to walk me there – I know my way around."
"Yes and better than I do, certainly," Qui-Gon says and sighs. "But there are things I wish to discuss with your mother in person – and I want to apologise. It is only right – I made a promise to her I could not keep and she deserves an explanation."
Anakin looks up at him warily and then nods. She’d appreciate it, he knows. "Okay then, let’s go, I guess."
Tatooine hasn’t changed – which, of course, it wouldn’t have. It’s only been few days. They feel so much longer though. In the days in between now and when he left, he’s seen war, he’s flown a star fighter, he’s exploded a droid control ship . There was a big party and everything too – thinking back to it now, the victory celebrations on Naboo, makes his head spin a little. There’d been so much food!
To go from that… back to this…
There are people scurrying along the dusty roads, slaves and freemen, going about their business. There’s animal waste strewn about on the streets, left there by the draft animals mostly used by moisture farmers – cheaper than keeping a speeder in Tatooine. There are people loitering about in any bit of shadow they could find, smoking or drinking to pass the time. It’s almost double noon now, and they’re gathering up the bazaar, to get merchandise indoors where it’s cooler before the main heat would hit.
Soon the streets would empty, and for an hour there’d be quiet as people waited in cooler places for the double noon to pass. It had always been Anakin’s favourite time of the day, because nothing happened during double noon. Things just got quiet and still, a break enforced by the solar system itself.
It’s maybe the only thing he’s missed about Tatooine, aside from his mother and maybe his home. In Naboo and in Coruscant, there was no double noon, there was no quiet time when things got too hot to do anything in. No it was all action, all the time.
Okay that’s a lie. He’s missed the heat. Turns out galaxy outside Tatooine is kriffin cold.
"Here," Anakins says and leads Qui-Gon through an alley. "Short cut."
"Mmhmm," Qui-Gon agrees and follows him amiably. He’s wearing the poncho again, jedi stuff hidden under it – Anakin wonders if he should tell the guy that his poncho is way too fancy to pass for normal in Tatooine, but… it probably doesn’t really matter.
Soon, they’re at Watto’s shop. It, surprisingly, does look a little different. There’s not so much stuff out in the front, it’s almost been cleared out – instead there are few boxes sitting in the front, full of parts and it looks like… like they’re being prepared to be taken away. Sold maybe? Or maybe…
Suspicious now, Anakin marches inside and – yeah. Everything there is in process of being crated up too – lot of it has already been taken away. Watto is clearing out the shop. He’s sold the place.
The voice is feeble with shock and still it makes Anakin’s heart skip a beat. He whirls around and there is his mother – and there, on his mother’s face, there is a bruise.
"Mom?" Anakin asks, excited and horrified and then runs to her. She almost drops the engine parts she’s carrying to catch him and at his urging she falls to her knees, hugging him confusedly and shakily while he takes her face in his hands.
"Someone hit you?" Anakin demands to know. It’s not a new bruise – it’s few days old. She’s had worse, this one hasn’t even swollen her eye or anything, but it’s still a bruise. She’s been hit. Someone hit his mom. "Did Watto hit you?!"
"What – no, that’s – Anakin," Shmi says and shakes her head. "What are you – how are you here? You’re not supposed to be here, Qui-Gon was supposed to – " she stops and looks up and probably sees Qui-Gon. "What is going on?" she asks shakily.
"I’m sorry, Shmi," Qui-Gon says quietly. "The Jedi Order has forbade my training of Anakin. I came to bring him home."
Anakin more feels the sob than hears it, before Shmi wrangles it back down and breathes in and out slowly to smother the reaction she otherwise would’ve had. When she looks at him, she smiles and it looks terrible. "I have missed you," she says, and she means it too, but it hurts.
She didn’t want him to return.
"I’m still free, Mom," Anakin says quickly. "Being back doesn’t make me a slave again – I’m back, yeah, but I’m back as freeman."
She smiles and nods but it doesn’t make her happy. "I’m sure you have lot to tell me," she says and sniffles before quickly wiping at the corner of her eye with the heel of her hand. "Right now, I – I really need to go back to work, Ani. The shop needs to be cleared out before the night."
Anakin looks around. There’s a lot to left to pack. "What happened?" he asks. "Did Watto sell it?"
"He lost it in a card game," Shmi says with a faint laugh and looks around. "The new owner wants us out before tomorrow."
Anakin blinks. Lost it in a cardgame? Why would Watto ever bet the shop in a card game? Sure, he gambles, a lot, but to make the store a bet, that’s… Watto’s not usually that stupid. "Is that why he hit you?" he asks suspiciously.
"Never you mind that Anakin," Shmi says and looks around and then at Qui-Gon. "How long are you staying – can you stay the night?" she asks worriedly.
"My ship leaves tomorrow," Qui-Gon says quietly, looking around the shop. "I can wait. In fact, I can help. Just tell me what to put where and I will help you pack."
"Yeah, me too – we’ll get it done quicker, the three of us," Anakin says and puts his backpack down.
Shmi looks between them, looking stressed and relieved and confused all at once, and then she nods. "Alright – those parts there, put them in that box please, and once it’s full take it outside…"
They don’t get to talk much as they work, there’s too much to do. All the random crap Watto had collected over the years had to be put away and as they do Anakin wonders where exactly is it all going. To Watto’s house? Or had he lost that too? Thankfully the backyard has already been cleared out – looks like most everything worth anything has been sold, and Anakin has to wonder how. Some of those engines and whatnot had been sitting in the yard for months and in some cases years. Had Watto finally lowered the prices?
Just how much had Watto lost, anyway, and how? Was it the races? Anakin knows he bet a lot of money against Anakin, just to spite Qui-Gon and Qui-Gon probably egged him on there, but… to lose the shop…
"Watto lost everything," Shmi tells him when he finally gets a moment to ask. "He bet more money than he had in the races, and he lost you to Qui-Gon. He tried to win some more by betting more, but… seems like his luck ran out. He’s still in debt."
"Is he now," Qui-Gon murmurs behind them, and carries another box outside. He returns moments later, brushing his hands together and looking thoughtful. "How much in debt would you say he is, now?"
"More than selling all of this will give him," Shmi says, giving him a look. "Why?"
Qui-Gon looks between her and Anakin and then looks outside. "Well," he says. "Last time I tried to buy something from him, he refused to take Republic credits," he says. "Maybe now that things are little more dire for him…"
Anakin shares a look with his mother. "W-what exactly would you buy?" Shmi asks warily.
"What would twenty thousand republic credits get me?" Qui-Gon asks, giving her a meaningful look.
Anakin chokes a little at that and Shmi wavers for a moment. "You… do know that there are a lot of people here who would happily exchange that for you, right?" she asks faintly. "Lot of freighters come and go here, and people do business on republic side… there are those here who use credits. You could even have it exchanged to platinum."
Qui-Gon pauses at that. "I... see," he says then, looking a little sheepish. "Yes, I imagine I could do that, yes."
Anakin stares at him for a moment incredulously. Seriously? Did they seriously go through the whole pod race thing because Qui-Gon Jinn doesn’t know money exchange is a thing?
"Ani," Shmi says, turning to him. "Can you take Qui-Gon to Dinah? She can set him up with a good exchange rate."
"Yeah, okay," Anakin says, shaking his head at Qui-Gon’s embarrassed expression. "I can do that, yeah."
One money exchange later, Qui-Gon comes back twenty thousand credits short and twelve thousand wupiupi richer. It’s not exactly a wild fortune Anakin had hoped it would be, once exchanged – turns out the rate of credits to hutt’s gold is not great. But it’s still a lot. Twelve thousand wupiupi could buy you a small spaceship if you bargained right.
It could also buy you a slave.
"How come you have money anyway?" Anakin asks. "I thought Jedi aren’t paid."
"They aren’t – these are the funds of my last mission," Qui-Gon says and gives him a slightly mischievous look. "And as far as the Jedi Council knows, they were spent buying the Naboo cruiser a new hyperdrive engine – and your freedom."
"Are you kidding me?" Anakin asks dubiously. "Isn’t that… stealing?"
"Call it justifiable allocation of funds."
"So, righteous stealing," Anakin says flatly. "I don’t think the Jedi Council would approve."
"What the Jedi Council doesn’t know they can’t disprove," Qui-Gon says calmly and then gives him a look. "It was my intention to save as much was needed to buy your mother’s freedom, once you became my Padawan. Things did not turn out that way, but if this money helps at all now… Then I will feel no guilt for my actions."
Anakin swallows and looks down. Qui-Gon meant to buy his Mom, once Anakin became his student? They were always going to come back for Mom? "I-I think it will be enough," he says shakily. "Watto will try to scam you for more though, so don’t tell him you have twelve thousand – he will ask for all of it."
"Alright," Qui-Gon says and puts the money away. "How much should i start with?"
"Five thousand. He’ll probably ask for twenty or something ridiculous, but don’t give in easily. Mom’s worth about fourteen thousand, that’s how much Watto bought her for, but with the debt he doesn’t have much space to make demands. So haggle him like hell," Anakin says firmly. "The lower you can keep it, the better."
Qui-Gon nods slowly. "I wouldn’t want to make your mother feel cheap, but i will try to keep the price low."
"Trust me, she’ll be happy either way," Anakin says. "And if there’s any money left over…" he trails away meaningfully.
Qui-Gon nods away. "I’ll try and do my best in that case."
Anakin nods back and looks away. He’s still kind of reeling about the idea that Qui-Gon would’ve come back to buy his mom’s freedom too if he could’ve. Anakin had thought that as a Jedi he would’ve had to put all thought about his mom aside, that he was supposed to forget because Jedi didn’t have families… but Qui-Gon had been planning to come back.
Qui-Gon would’ve still freed his mom.
Anakin’s stomach twists a little, as he for a moment imagines it, that other life that could’ve been. He could’ve been a Jedi and still had his mom. Qui-Gon would’ve let it, regardless of how the Jedi Council would’ve disapproved.
For the first time, Anakin lets himself be sad, honestly truly sad, that Qui-Gon isn’t going to be his master after all. He’d always liked the man, Qui-Gon was warm and funny when he wanted to be and strong, and he obviously liked Anakin, thought well of him. Now though… now it’s somehow more. Qui-Gon didn’t just like him – he would’ve done right by him.
"Is something wrong?" Qui-Gon asks quietly as Anakin’s eyes water a little.
"No, it’s – fine," Anakin says and wipes at his eyes. "I’m just happy that Mom might be free."
Qui-Gon rests a hand on his shoulder and together they head back to the shop.
Watto is not happy to see them, not at all. He flails in the air in anger and frustration, snapping, "Ye – ye thieves! I lost everything because of you," at their general direction. "Out, out of my shop, both of ye."
"From what I hear it’s not your shop anymore, is it," Qui-Gon comments calmly.
"It’s still my shop for another twenty hours and while it is my shop, neither of ye is nowhere near welcome here," Watto says and waves a screwdriver angrily at them. "Be gone wit you!"
Qui-Gon gives him a look while Anakin makes a face and behind Watto, Shmi wrings her hands worriedly. "Looks like hard times have hit you hard. Perhaps it will cheer you up a little to know that I’ve come to make a purchase, with wupiupi this time," Qui-Gon says and takes out a single golden coin and showing it. "I want to buy the boy’s mother."
Watto narrows his eyes and for a moment it looks like he’ll decline just to spite Qui-Gon – but money’s money, it seems, even when you hate the guy who has it. "Twenty thousand," he says spitefully. "And not a coin less, thou hear? Not a coin less!"
Qui-Gon’s expression is utterly unamused. "Five thousand," he says and puts the coin away. "And not a coin more."
Watto sputters, his wings beating air madly. "Five! Thee mad, human, mad!" he spouts and points the screwdriver at him. "I can do nineteen, maybe at a stretch, and thee is lucky I can go that low!"
Qui-Gon smiles and it looks almost predatory. "Five," he says again. "Make it five and half out of pity. And you’re lucky I can go so high."
Watto makes a outraged noise at that and almost drops the screwdriver. "Insanity!" he snarls. "Insanity – eighteen and half!"
It’s not so much haggling as it is shouting match and while Watto and Qui-Gon snap at each other, Anakin inches around them to get at his mother. She looks nervous, wringing her hands every time Qui-Gon gives a low number. "We got twelve," he whispers to her. "He can do it."
"Oh," she says and her shoulders slump a little. She doesn’t say anything more and neither does Anakin – out of fear of tipping Watto off – and together they watch the shouting match continue as Qui-Gon laboriously brings Watto’s price down further and further until finally they meet – at nine and half.
"No lower, i can go no lower, it can’t be done!" Watto cries. "Thee puts me in poorhouse!"
"Nine and half will do," Qui-Gon says, making a slight face. "Now let’s see about the paperwork, shall we?"
Watto gives him a suspicious look. "Does thou have nine and half thousand wupiupi, outlander?" he demands. "Show me the money, let me see it’s real, and then thou will get the paperwork!"
Qui-Gon gives him a look and then takes out a single platinum coin, throwing it to Watto who peers it over suspiciously. Then, gripping the large coin tightly, Watto turns to get the paperwork.
Anakin clutches onto his Mother’s hand tightly, letting out a slow breath. Free, he thinks. Soon, she’ll be free. Both of them, free – and with good two thousand wupiupi to spare.
"Free," Shmi whispers.
"Free," Anakin agrees and shakily they wait until the paperwork is settled, and Shmi’s ownership is transferred over to Qui-Gon – who takes takes great pleasure in going through the steps of relinquishing ownership entirely.
"Right," the Jedi says and turns to them, looking satisfied. "Let’s go see a clinic about a chip, shall we?"
Later, while they’re packing away the things at the house – which Shmi will now have to leave, as she’s no longer a slave – Qui-Gon explains everything to her while Anakin rushes about getting his things together. C-3PO is still there and in no state to travel and now he can actually get all his tools and things and parts and he needs them too.
He’s been trying not to think about it – but it’s still there, the crystal cube, hidden under his tunic, pressing against his belly. He’s going to have to build the reader for it and he’s probably going to need all his tools for it.
"I don’t know what we will do now," Shmi admits worriedly, even as she counts the money Qui-Gon is leaving with them. Two thousand and five hundred credits – it’s no fortune, but it’s enough to start with. Maybe even get a house, a small one. It would also be enough to get them out of Tatooine, though after that… what?
"Whatever you want to do, whatever you can," Qui-Gon says gently, sadly, as he looks between her stressed expression and Anakin’s attempts to wrap C-3PO in a way that won’t leave his more vulnerable parts exposed.
"Yes, I guess… I guess we will," Shmi says and then falls to sit by the kitchen table, running a shaking hand through her hair. "I didn’t think I’d ever be free," she whispers. "I haven’t dared to… to want for things for so long, I don’t know where to start."
Qui-Gon gives her a sympathetic, conflicted look and Anakin gives her a quick hug, pressing against her side. "We’ll figure it out," he says. "We’re not useless – we got skills. We’re both good mechanics and I’m a winning podracer now and everything. We’ll get work, we’ll get house, normal stuff."
"Right," Shmi says. "Right, yes – we will, won’t we," she says and runs a hand over his hair. "Yes, we’ll do that. Get a house of our own, first. Then work. Yes."
Qui-Gon says nothing, watching them for a moment and then looking away, guiltily. It makes Anakin wonder what he wanted for them – what he would’ve arranged for Shmi if Anakin was his student and they had had more time to do this right. Would’ve he already had a place for her, a job, a better life? Maybe.
"We’ll be fine," Anakin says, to the Jedi as much as to his mother. "We’ll be just fine."
"I have no doubt you will be," Qui-Gon says with a sad smile. "You will be a great young man, Anakin Skywalker, and successful in whatever avenue of life you decide to pursue from here on out. I have no doubt of that."
Anakin looks away, feeling the holocron against his belly. He knows the avenue of life he’s going to take. And yeah, Qui-Gon is right.
With or without the Jedi Order’s approval, he’s going to be the greatest Jedi who ever lived.
Qui-Gon leaves the next day on board the same ship he came on, and Anakin and Shmi both see him off. It’s funny, how much he changed their lives in such a short time, all because he wanted to take Anakin for a student. He hadn’t been able to do it in the end, but in the meanwhile he’d done the best he could for them. It’s definitely more than anyone else had done and lot more than anyone else ever would.
So much effort and money and trickery, just to free them.
"We can’t ever repay you for this," Shmi tells him quietly. "But we are very, very grateful."
"I don’t need payment," Qui-Gon says, sighing and looking at Anakin. "I’m just sorry I couldn’t do what I promised. That Anakin couldn’t become a Jedi, after all."
"You’ve still done so much more than anyone else could have," Shmi says and shakes her head, half in amazement and half in disbelief. "So much more. To be free… it’s worth everything."
"Well I’m glad I did at least something right, in that case," Qui-Gon sighs and then crouches down to look at Anakin. "Anakin," he says very seriously. "Even without training, you are still very strong in the Force. Trust your feelings, always – and beware the Darkside. You know how it works?"
"Yeah," Anakin nods. Qui-Gon had told him, after the zabrak. "I know, I won’t let myself be angry or mad or greedy. I’ll be good."
"I have no doubt you will be," Qui-Gon says, with a sort of half nostalgia of a man imagining would-bes and could’ve-beens. He takes Anakin’s hands and gives them a gentle squeeze. "Because you already are. Don’t doubt that."
Anakin swallows and nods – and he imagines too, the life he could’ve had, would’ve had… had things worked out differently.
Then he throws his arms around Qui-Gon’s shoulders and hugs him tight. Qui-Gon’s arms are big and strong around him, and he smells like the Jedi Temple, except softer. He smells like cloth and the tea they drank in Coruscant and Anakin knows already he’s going to miss it terribly.
"I’m going to miss you," he admits quietly against Qui-Gon’s tunic. "I wish I could’ve been your Padawan. I would’ve been so good too, it’s not fair ."
"No it isn’t," Qui-Gon agrees and his voice is a little rough. "But you can still be good. Just remember what I told you and stay with the Light, and you will be alright," he says and pulls back a little, squeezing Anakin’s shoulders gently. "And I will miss you too, Anakin Skywalker."
Anakin nods and sniffles and pulls back. Qui-Gon gives him a sad smile and stands up. "Time for me to go," he says and looks between them. "I wish you both all the best."
"Same to you, master Jedi," Shmi says, smiling painfully. "And thank you. Thank you so much."
"Yeah, thank you," Anakin says and quickly wipes at his eyes. "Thank you. Thank you ." And sorry, he add’s silently and rests a hand against his belly, where the holocron sits.
Qui-Gon smiles at him and nods. "Goodbye, Anakin," he says. "And remember, the Force will be with you, always."