Jedi Knight Pangur Bahn sighed, shielding his heterochromic eyes from the harsh desert landscape of Tatooine. Just behind the trianii, like a pair of dark-eyed shadows, were two of the queen's handmaidens, Padmé and Sabé. They were followed by an astromech droid, the only one that survived the race from Naboo. The negotiations with the Trade Federation had broken down on the arrival of Pangur and his Dathomirian knight-partner, Salín, who had been grievously injured during their escape with the queen's entourage. The escape had also damaged their ship's hyperdrive, forcing them to land on the barren planet of Tatooine, the nearest non-Republic planet to Naboo.
The group had hoped to hide themselves there long enough to fix the hyperdrive, but it was proving more difficult than Pangur had anticipated. They had no parts to spare for the repairs, no money to purchase more, and Pangur was hardly a mechanic on his best days. Padmé touched the being's arm, tilting her head back to look up at him. The top of her head barely reached his sternum. "Knight Pangur? There is a . . . scrap shop not far from here. Perhaps they would have the parts we're seeking?"
"Excellent eye, young one," Pangur praised, touching a paw to her intricately braided, chocolate hair. Sabé boasted the same braids and Pangur envied them for a moment. His people enjoyed warmth, and ran warmer than humans, but Tatooine was hotter than even his people preferred and their upswept braids were probably nice and cool, unlike his long, white fur.
The interior of the scrap shop was a relief after the heat of Tatooine's twin suns, the domed structure half-buried to help keep it cool. A little, blond boy was sitting on the counter, blue eyes sharp as the Jedi and handmaidens entered. Padmé, in turn, gave him a lovely smile. "Hello."
The boy started, then ducked his head with a blush. "Are you an angel?"
Padmé blinked at the boy, then gave a soft giggle. "I'm just a girl. And you're a funny, little boy."
"Oh—I—um—" The boy went bright red. "I mean—hi! Um—Watto will be back in a moment, if you want to wait. You can look around and if you have and questions, I'm sure I can help!"
Pangur tried not to frown at the Toydarian name and hoped it didn't actually belong to a Toydarian. The beings were heavily resistant to Force suggestion and Pangur was extremely limited in funds. If he couldn't get Watto to take the amount of Republic credits they'd managed to scrape together, they were in a great deal of trouble.
The Jedi's hopes were dashed when a cranky-looking Toydarian fluttered into the main room of the shop, a scowl on his face. "What're you looking for, offworlder?"
"My hyperdrive needs repaired," Pangur touched the R2 unit, at his side. "My astromech, R2D2, has a list of the parts I will require."
"You come with me," Watto gestured to Pangur after looking over the parts list. "Boy, you watch the shop until Khi returns, then you can go home—if your work is done."
"Yippee!" Anakin slid from the counter. A flash of fondness crossed the Toydarian's face before he flew into the scrap yard, Pangur following behind.
"Padmé, Sabé, stay in here," Pangur paused in the doorway to order the girls not to follow him.
"Yes, sir," Sabé gripped her friend's hand and Pangur shook his head. The two looked so alike with their similar features and coloring that he had trouble believing they weren't twins, at times. Even their Force-signatures were similar, though Padmé had assured him there was no actual relation when he had asked.
"Is he your master?" Anakin asked as Pangur followed Watto. "Watto is mine."
"You're a slave?" Padmé gasped. The Nubian had never run into slavery before since her planet had been part of the Republic for generations.
"I'm a person," The boy replied, clearly hurt. "My name is Anakin Skywalker."
Pangur thought he heard the girls apologize—likely they were too polite not to, though it was clear the pair felt terrible for the thoughtless outburst—but most of their words were lost to distance. Watto whistled, catching the attention of a young man that Pangur guessed was about twenty-three or -four, though his pale, blue-green eyes were far older in appearance. Ginger-gold hair glinted in the planet's twin suns, and Pangur frowned, curious, when he saw a thin, waist-length braid decorated with shiny beads and twists of wire snaking from behind the man's right ear.
"Yes, Master Watto?" The man hurried towards them, Pangur's eyes locked on the long braid. It's resemblance to a padawan braid was disconcerting, but had to be coincidence.
"The cat-being needs Nubian parts. Hyperdrive. You fix this."
"Yes, Master Watto," The man replied, bowing. The almost Jedi-like bow made Pangur's brows furrow, but it couldn't mean anything, even with the braid. Outer rim slaves did not have Jedi training.
Watto turned to Pangur. "Ben knows the pieces. He will fetch what is on your list. Now, there is the matter of payment . . . "
"Of course," Pangur agreed, smiling genially. He hoped he had enough credits to pay for the parts since any contact to request more could result in their ship being traced and place everyone at risk. Unfortunately, Watto was not impressed with his reasoning, or with the amount of money he had to offer.
"Jedi," Watto spat, scowling and throwing them out. "You come back with money! And no Republic dataries. They're worthless!"
Pangur collected the girls, scrubbing at his face. Padmé and Sabé glanced up at him, concerned, and Sabé commented, "The news was not good, I take it?"
"Not at all," The being sighed. "We cannot fix the ship without money, and our funds are . . . extremely limited, I'm afraid."
"We'll figure out something," Padmé assured him, offering a smile Pangur couldn't help but return.
"I've no doubt of that, I simply hope it is in time," Pangur replied, stiffening slightly when the wind began to pick up. The natives were scurrying for cover and Pangur felt something sharp twist in the Force, screaming for them to find shelter.
"Padmé! Sabé!" The blond boy from Watto's shop hurried toward them, followed by Ben and giant of a man with azure eyes. "Do you have somewhere to go? There's a sandstorm coming."
"Our ship is in the outskirts and we're headed back there now," Padmé said. "But thank you, Anakin. You're very kind."
The men closed their eyes for a moment and Pangur felt something stir the Force. "You will not make it back to your ship in time," The larger man told them, gesturing for the group to follow him. "Come. You may weather the storm in our home."
Pangur eyed both men carefully. They moved like well-trained fighters and the Jedi could see battle scars marring their work-hardened bodies. At almost two meters tall, the larger man was a full head taller than Ben though he was still shorter than Pangur. Despite being Jedi and trained to fight for most of his life, Pangur wasn't certain if he could win against the pair if they were taking them into a trap, though the Force said he could trust them.
"Thank you," Padmé broke into Pangur's train of thought, smiling brightly at Anakin. "We would appreciate it."
"Great! Come on!" Anakin caught the girls' hands to lead them through the streets. As an afterthought, he gestured to the men with his chin to introduce them to the girls. "Oh—and those are my dads, Khi and Ben Skywalker."
Pangur raised an eyebrow. Khi looked a few years past thirty, so he was old enough to have a son Anakin's age, but Ben was on the young side and they couldn't both be blood relations. Ben caught the look and scowled. "Adoption."
"I apologize," Pangur spread his hands in a gesture of peace, tail twisting contritely. "I meant no disrespect."
"Don’t mind Pangur," Sabé smiled back at them. "He's too serious for himself. I caught him frowning in his sleep, once."
Pangur sputtered out a protest, indignant, but the comment had the desired effect. Ben's eyes—green now, though Pangur would have sworn them gray moments ago—slid away from him.
The storm was starting to pick up when they reached the slave quarters, and Khi hastily ushered them out of the howling winds. "Sandstorms are very dangerous on Tatooine," Khi explained almost gently; Pangur thought the man rather soft spoken. "They can strip skin from bone. Best to avoid being out in them."
"We don't have sandstorms where we're from," Padmé replied, face pale. "I never knew sand could do anything like that."
"Leave your outer clothes in the entryway, please," Ben requested, catching Anakin's arm when the boy tried to rush further into the house. "I know it's a little cramped with so many of us, but we try to track in as little sand as possible."
Anakin made a face, but stripped down to his undershirt and shorts then dusted off his feet. It was only then that Pangur realized that both Anakin and Khi were barefoot. Before he could comment, the boy was hauling Padmé and Sabé towards his room with R2D2 following closely behind, the boy chattering a mile a minute. Khi and Ben watched him for a moment, then traded fond smiles.
"I will get your brush so we can deal with your hair, then I will clean up this sand while you fix something for us to eat," Ben offered his lover with a soft smile.
"Thank you, a chuisle mo chroí," Khi kissed Ben softly. "Could you bring a comb for Pangur? I fear he has brought home more sand than even I."
Pangur raised an eyebrow. Khi's sepia hair reached the bottom of his shoulder blades, swept up in a braided half tail, but it probably carried far less sand than Pangur's fur. Ben returned moments later and Pangur had to look away from the intimate moment has Ben carefully brushed through Khi's hair.
"Now, your turn to make a late meal, Qui—Khi." The younger man stumbled over his lover's name. Pangur stiffened, then shifted into a defensive stance.
"Your name is not Khi." Pangur accused the man, hand going to his lightsaber. He wished he hadn't trusted the men, though the Force was still telling him they meant no harm.
"it is . . . from a certain point of view," Khi replied, surprising Pangur with the Jedi adage. "Though you're an offworlder so . . . I guess it matters little to you."
"I don't understand."
"My real name is Qui-Gon Jinn, and Ben's is Obi-Wan Kenobi. They sound like the names of freemen on this world, though I've only ever been a slave—even if it has not always been on Tatooine. Still on Tatooine, the names are pretentious and using them brings a chance of punishment where the names Khi and Ben do not."
"You could be punished for your name?" Pangur asked, horrified.
"Names have power," Ben—Obi-Wan—shrugged. "In our home, we use our real names. Out there, we do not."
"What name would you prefer us to use?" Pangur finished combing the sand from his fur, glad to find it was far less than expected.
"Either is fine," Qui-Gon ducked through the doorway with the ease of long practice. Pangur was glad he wasn't the only one having trouble with the height of the doors, though Qui-Gon had no need to duck to simply stand inside as Pangur did, being a head shorter. "If you'll excuse me, I'll fix us something for late meal."
"Perhaps I could aid you?" Pangur padded deeper into the home, mindful of the doorways and ceilings. The slave quarters were carved into a cliff face and the trianii didn't care to concuss himself by forgetting to watch his head. The rooms the Skywalkers shared were cramped for three, never mind six and an astromech.
"Would you mind if I indulged in my curiosity?" Pangur asked. "There would likely be some rudeness on my part . . . "
Qui-Gon chuckled. "You want to know how it came to this? How Obi-Wan, Anakin and I became slaves?"
Pangur flushed, though it was impossible to tell under his fur. The twitching of his tail, however, gave him away. "Yes. If you don't mind, of course."
"My homeworld is not part of the Republic," Qui-Gon explained, not offended by the question. "So I was born into slavery. Sold around the galaxy for a bit, trained to fight in the gladiatorial arenas, where I met Obi-Wan, and now I'm here. Anakin was also born into slavery though he's native to Tatooine to our knowledge. His mother wasn't, but she spoke little of her past. Understandable, all things considered. Obi-Wan . . . was freeborn. He attended the Jedi temple but his teacher—knight-master, I think you call them?—sold him the first time they went off planet. His first owners tried to mind-wipe him, but it seems it's only partially effective on Jedi."
Pangur stared. 'The Jedi sold him?"
"It was quite a shock to me, also," Qui-Gon admitted. "It's why he was in the arenas. He was sold to the arena when he was fourteen . . . he is twenty four now and I am almost a decade his senior. Watto won us about five years back."
"How long have you been . . . "
"We became lovers when he was sixteen," Qui-Gon replied. "We've been lucky to stay together for so long, but we're arena partners and very good at it. There's more money to be made in the arenas when we fight together, so no one wanted to separate us."
"You're Force sensitive." Pangur realized.
"Trained by a Jedi for a bit, too. Well, the one who trained me left the order so he wasn't precisely Jedi but I'm not sure what you consider him." Qui-Gon nodded. "He told me I could have been Jedi in another life. Perhaps he was right, though it doesn't bear much thought. Could have is not are so dwelling on it is pointless."
"Also Force sensitive, Knight Pangur," Obi-Wan replied. "And yes, we knew you for Jedi the moment we met you. It's pretty obvious, even in the outer rim."
"Yet you still allowed me into your home . . . ?" Pangur blinked.
"It is as the Force wills," Qui-Gon replied. Obi-Wan just shrugged, not happy about it but agreeing with his lover and the Force. "Now, tell us why you are on Tatooine and let us see if we are able to aid you in your return home."
The solution to Pangur's problems turned out to be an arena match followed by a podrace. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had fought in arenas around the galaxy together for a decade and were the current champions on Tatooine while Anakin, to Pangur's surprise, was a podracer. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan winning their gladiatorial match, and thereby winning the bets Pangur placed, gave him the money he needed to enter Anakin in the Boonta Eve Classic. He even managed to strike a deal through a bet with Watto that he would get the three slaves if the boy actually managed to win.
The pod used was one Anakin and Obi-Wan had been working on for months—possibly years—and while Pangur knew little of mechanics, even he could tell it was quite a work of art. It was built from scrap they'd collected here and there over time, quite a feat for a pair of slaves. Pangur convinced Watto it was his and managed to get the being to donate Anakin to the cause provided Pangur used his own funds for collateral. Thanks to his winnings from the arena match, he had just enough to avoid putting up the ship.
Pangur walked away with the parts to fix the ship and all three of Watto's slaves, despite the fuss raised by the Toydarian. "A bet is a bet, Watto," Pangur warned, glancing towards the top box. "And you best honor it unless you want me to take it to the Hutts."
Watto grumbled, but considering his windfall was enough for him to move to a nicer planet and retire, Pangur doubted he was actually that upset about the whole thing. As they left, Watto turned to Pangur. "You better not go back on your word. I still have friends I can send after you."
"They will be freed as soon as we are in Republic space," Pangur agreed, though he wasn't sure how he was going to fit three more humans and a protocol droid on the already over-crowded ship. It was a relief that he would be able to give the repairs to Anakin and Obi-Wan, however. He was no mechanic and while he thought he could fix the hyperdrive, he knew the father-son duo certainly could.
At least Watto had shuttled the parts, hyperdrive and protocol droid to the ship while Pangur waited for the three former slaves to pack what little they owned. A handful of rough spun clothes, whatever toiletries they could salvage and the adults' gladiatorial gear accounted for most of their possessions.
"I would like to present you to the council when we reach Coruscant," Pangur told Obi-Wan, one eye on Anakin and the handmaidens as they followed a handful of paces behind the adults. "I would request some compensation for your help on this mission—I will not hear of you beginning your new life empty handed."
"We thank you," Qui-Gon bowed. "But is it necessary for us to speak to the council?"
"It is my belief that Obi-Wan's knight-master sold him and told the council he died. The council would never have consented to the sale and I am certain they would have tried to find you if they knew what your knight-master did. If my belief is correct and they do not know . . . "
"Then it's possible there are others," Obi-Wan finished, frowning. "I may have been lost over a decade ago, but if there were others—and they were more recent—perhaps they could be found."
"Yes, exactly. Will you at least speak with them?" Pangur pleaded. "I cannot bear the thought of other Jedi sharing your fate when there is a chance we can save them."
"I will speak with the council," Obi-Wan consented, though Qui-Gon could see fear sparking in his eyes. There was a chance that Obi-Wan's original beliefs—that the council had known and consented to the sale—were true, though Qui-Gon hoped that was not the case.
The older man was reaching for his lover when something screamed in the Force, making the Force sensitive members of the group freeze. Anakin staggered, giving a soft moan of pain. "Dad, what is that?"
"Get to the ship!" Pangur snapped, drawing his lightsaber as foreboding flooded his veins. "Now!"
"Take the girls, Anakin," Qui-Gon ordered and Obi-Wan felt his lover strengthen the shields they kept around their son. "Your dad and I will be right behind you. Go!"
"Yes, Papa," Anakin and the handmaidens had barely begun to move when a black cloaked figure dropped down between their group and the ship. The girls and Anakin skidded to a halt, eyes wide. Pangur lunged toward the children as the being drew a lightsaber—sanguine as the blood he sought to shed—desperate to block the strike aimed at Anakin.
Obi-Wan arrived first, a lilac blue lightsaber gripped in his calloused hands. A second snap-hiss revealed Qui-Gon held a 'saber of his own, spring green in color. The older man's azure eyes narrowed. "Don't touch our son."
Pangur gaped at the gladiators' lightsabers as the being disengaged, hood falling back to reveal a red and black tattooed Zabrak a few years younger than Obi-Wan. Anakin grabbed Padmé and Sabé's hands. "Stay close," The nine year old told them. "As soon as my parents give us the chance, we have to run."
Pangur didn't even realize it until later, but Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan synced their breathing, just for a moment, and brushed their hands together while reaching for the Force. As one, the pair lunged toward the being Pangur was certain was a Sith despite the council insisting the Sith order had been destroyed millennia ago. As they moved, Pangur thought he saw a pale green glow around Qui-Gon and a blue one around Obi-Wan that became a soft aquamarine when they touched. At first he dismissed it as a trick of the light, but quickly realized it was their connection to the Force, strong enough to manifest around their physical forms.
In tandem, the two shifted the battlefield, leaving the path to the ship open for Anakin, Sabé and Padmé. Anakin tightened his hold on their hands and the three raced for the ship. Pangur knew the speed they were running had to be Force enhanced, but he hadn't been aware it was something that could be imbued into others. Yet Anakin had lent his strength to the handmaidens even as he moved.
Pangur immediately filled in the gap so the Sith couldn't go after them, the two gladiators falling back with their son. "Go!" Pangur yelled, lightsaber at the ready as the Sith paused for a moment to examine the trio. "I'll hold him off!"
"Dammit, Pangur!" Obi-Wan growled, even as Pangur frantically blocked a powerful strike, then barely dodged a sharp thrust from the Sith's lightsaber. Before either of them could say more, something warm was pressed against Pangur's back and pain burned through his mid-section. Abruptly, he realized the Sith's 'saber had nearly cut him in two—was almost a third of the way across his torso—when Qui-Gon had blocked it, plastering himself to the trianii's back to reach around him and block the strike. The man wrenched them back as Obi-Wan Force tossed the Sith away. Pangur barely realized they'd jumped on the ship when the shock of his injury caught up to him.
"Med bay!" He heard someone demand and the arms around him lifted him from the ground as everything collapsed into darkness.