Shmi watches the Jedi, watches him bet with Watto, watches him watch Ani.
“Jedi are always thinking about the future,” Padmé says, and Shmi can hear those undertones of bitterness in her voice, and wonders what she’s leaving behind, traveling with this Jedi.
What kind of future will her son have?
The Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn, watches Ani from afar, and when Ani and Padmé are both in bed he goes to sit on the floor, cross-legged, and closes his eyes. His breathing slows. He’s not asleep – Shmi has fallen asleep cross-legged, on horrible nights when there had been so much work to do, and she had to keep going, and going, and going – he’s far too calm for that. She can feel the calm radiating out from him. There’s only one thing to do in this situation, clearly.
Shmi goes and sits across from him, crossing her legs as well, placing her hands on her knees like he has, and waiting.
“It’s called meditation,” he says finally. “A means of calming the mind, clarifying it. A basic art that all Jedi learn.”
Shmi thinks for a moment. “Ani will learn this, then?”
“How do you instruct children in this, then?”
A ghost of a smile crosses the Jedi’s face. “With great difficulty,” he says, and Shmi likes him a little more for the humor filling his voice. “We ask them to sit still, and listen to their breathing, The basis is a count; breathing in for six, holding for two, out for four, holding for two, and repeating.”
“That seems rather difficult for small, excited children,” Shmi points out neutrally. This will not come easy to her son.
“Which is why we do it often,” the Jedi explains. “Even starting from toddler-hood, many Jedi have trouble with meditation.”
Some whispers talk about how Jedi can read minds; Shmi pushes this fear out of her mind. It won’t serve her here.
“Do the Jedi take over-aged students often?” she asks instead.
The Jedi hesitates; that is answer enough, and after a few seconds of floundering he seems to know it as well. “No matter what happens, I will make sure he’s looked after,” he says.
That’s not as much of a reassurance as it could be, though it is better than nothing, Shmi decides.
Over-aged students, a part of her mind whispers, the one that tells her when to not aggravate Watto and what to show to a customer and where to hide the runaways that come to her house every so often. If Ani is overaged, then–
She takes her first breath in slowly, in the six-count that the Jedi had said, and goes from there. It’s supposed to be a calming exercise, he said, so she lets the tension drain out of her, the work of the day, the sting of the wind, lets it all drain out into the ground until she is as solid as rock.
She can feel a flash of surprise from the Jedi, lets it pass over her and through her and not disturb her any more than the words of her masters have, but the Jedi calms his emotions again quickly.
This quiet, this calm, she can feel the transmitter in her leg, can feel the faint buzz of electricity, can feel it pressed up against the bone.
The Jedi’s reassurance had been better than nothing – he will make sure that Ani is looked after to the best of his ability.
But Shmi has a sharpened knife, paper-thin, hidden in a box in her cupboard, ready for the moment she found out where Ani’s and her transmitters were. And Ani’s won’t be a problem for much longer, not with the kind of certainty she’s seen in the Jedi’s face, not with the images she sees when she dreams.
Shmi listens to the pulse of her blood flowing around the transmitter, and thinks of the best way to make the cut.
The Jedi doesn’t seem surprised when she stands, her leg bleeding but bandaged, the tiny bomb that was in her body sitting on her kitchen table, but Ani is shocked beyond words. He sees the transmitter on the table, sees her stand, a runaway slave, and hugs her tight, equal amounts fear and awe pouring from him. Awe that she has had the strength to cut the transmitter out of her own body; fear that she will be caught.
“Don’t be afraid, Ani,” she whispers. “You think that Watto will chase me off-planet?”
He hugs her tighter as his fear dies down, now only embers against the blaze of his awe and his joy. They are both free, now.
“We should return to your ship, Jedi,” Shmi says, holding her son tight.
“Qui-Gon,” he says, and offers her his arm.
She doesn’t take it. Her first steps outside as a free woman will be her own.
The sand, the suns, the sky, those are all the same as she breathes them in, breathes in this new day. But she is free.
Ani walks by her side, holding the ship-parts that the Jedi – that Qui-Gon needs. They walk out of town, and nobody stops them. The transmitter does not buzz a warning, does not explode; the transmitter sits on a table in what had never really been her home, and Shmi walks out into the desert, even further than where the masters allow the slaves to go.
She will miss some things, she knows; she will miss her friends, her companions, and they will miss her, but being sold was always a risk, and they will know her for a runaway, and know deep down in their hearts that freedom is possible. She might miss the desert, and the suns; she knows the desert deep down in her bones, knows its moods and its fury and its patience, but that is something in her, and she won’t lose it by leaving this place.
What will she find on other worlds?
Of course, that’s when a zabrak wielding a lightsaber decides to try and kill them.
“Run, Ani!” Qui-Gon calls, and Shmi seconds it, pushing her son towards the shining ship.
She can’t run, not with her leg still pulsing in pain; she hadn’t sliced an artery or she would be dead already, but to get to the transmitter she’d had to cut through muscle.
Instead, she turns.
The zabrak is fast, as fast as Qui-Gon, and his lightsaber has two blades. But he pays her no mind, as Shmi is used to being paid no mind. She takes a deep breath; it’s said that the desert winds will help runaway slaves, will help those fighting against the hutts.
The zabrak steps back, cursing in some language that Shmi doesn’t know, blinking sand out of his eyes; Qui-Gon glances back at her, then shuts his lightsaber off and runs, picking her up in his arms before leaping up high onto the ramp of the ship.
Ani helps her up, as another Jedi helps Qui-Gon to his feet.
“Obi-Wan,” he says. “Did you see that?”
“I did,” the other Jedi – Obi-Wan – says, his eyes shadowed. “What was it?”
“Not that,” Qui-Gon says, impatient. “Well, yes, that too, but…” he turns to Shmi. “The sand,” he says, as if it should be a revelation.
Shmi just shrugs. “It happens,” she says. “Masters pursue a slave into the desert. Sand blinds them, and they stumble back into town. Or not.”
The Jedi stare at her as she brushes off her clothes and checks that Ani is all right.
The younger Jedi is mostly just confused, but Qui-Gon is clearly shocked. He had underestimated her, even after showing her the meditation.
That was a bad habit, underestimating people. Shmi wonders if the Jedi in their temple have the same habit.
If they do, it will make things very interesting indeed.