**A Plot Twists**
Things were going well for Sheev Palpatine. Not, perhaps, exactly as he had foreseen, but in the correct direction nonetheless. The only hiccup so far had been that great disturbance in the Force several weeks ago, the source of which he had yet to track down. A pity he couldn’t spare more resources on the issue – such power at his command would make his future reign all but assured, of that he was certain. For now though, Naboo had to be his primary focus. The Viceroy’s failure in letting the Queen escape was unfortunate, as was Maul’s failure to eliminate her on Tatooine. But things were hardly beyond the realm of recovery.
Whether the Queen succeeded or failed in her mission, Darth Sidious already had what he wanted.
For now, though, his cover as the concerned Senator of Naboo took precedence, as he and Chancellor Velorum arrived to greet the Queen and her entourage.
A young Togruta Padawan met them, bowing respectfully to the Chancellor as she explained that the Queen’s departure would be delayed, but not for long. Odd, he thought, as she turned to converse with the Captain of the Queen’s guards. When Velorum had recommended Qui-Gon Jinn as his chosen negotiator, he had said that Jinn’s Padawan was a human male. Which made this girl one of the unknown Jedi from Naboo. Movement along the ramp drew his attention, and he tilted his head curiously as a rather large group descended from the ship. He would have to reprimand his apprentice. Maul had made no mention of this in any of his reports.
“What’s the meaning of this, then,” Velorum spoke up, frowning at the young Jedi. “I asked Master Jinn and his Padawan to negotiate peace. I wasn’t made aware of other Jedi being sent out. And while I understand that negotiations fall apart, who are these people? They do not appear to be with the Naboo.” Indeed, the wretched things in their rags were a far cry form the Queen’s entourage.
“My Master, Grandmaster, and I were on a separate mission and found ourselves stranded on Naboo when the Trade Federations invasion began,” the young Togruta replied coolly. “The ship was damaged in our escape, and we had to make an emergency landing to make repairs.” Sheev ceased listening and watched this group. Jinn’s Padawan finally appeared, accompanied by another unknown Jedi, a woman, and a young boy. He carefully did not allow himself to react when he felt the child’s power wash over the landing pad. This, this was what he had been waiting years for. This was the result of his Masters experiments, delivered to Coruscant by the Jedi themselves! His elation was cut short by the child’s bright presence being muffled by the somehow even greater strength of the unknown Jedi leading him and Jinn’s Padawan to a waiting speeder.
That wasn’t possible.
Master Palagius had been certain that the ritual would bring forth the Chosen One.
Who was this Jedi, to be greater than the strength his Master had so carefully concocted?
… Perhaps this was the great disturbance he had felt, this Jedi who eclipsed the Chosen One, yet handled the child with such care.
“… and I hope you can understand my concern, bringing Mandalorians of all things into this issue!”
Sheev turned back to the Chancellor and the young Togruta Jedi just in time to see the young girl bristle. “Cody and Rex have been working with my Master and I for years.” How amusing. This little Jedi had a temper, and a protective streak as well. Perhaps she could be used, at some point. “They are good men, and would never do anything to jeopardize Her Majesty’s safety or mission!”
“That is –“
“Apologies, Chancellor,” Sheev interrupted carefully. “But if these men were not hired for the express purpose of protecting her Majesty, or doing harm in her name, then there is no reason to object to their presence. In fact, if they have been helping out of the goodness of their hearts, as the young Padawan has claimed, then I can only be grateful to them.” He smiled kindly at the young girl as he shoulders lowered slightly. How easy the young were to manipulate. “I trust the Order will provide the necessary statements, to remove any doubt about their involvement?”
“Of course, Senator,” the young Jedi assured quickly. “Once we’ve made our report to the council. I’m sure my Master would be happy to provide you with a direct statement, if you need it. He’s very adamant that our presence not jeopardize Her Majesty.”
“I look forward to hearing from your Master then, young one.”
Just then, further movement along the ramp drew their attention as Padme Amidala made her way forward. Chancellor Velorum stepped forward to meet her, and Sheev followed in his wake, glancing over her party as they appeared. Ah, there was Qui-Gon Jinn, just beside the Handmaidens, looking as insufferably serene as ever. And there, on the other side, was the final unknown Jedi, looking equally calm and poised. Something about this one nagged at him, though, something familiar, and when he recognized it…
Death would be too good for his apprentice. Torture would be too kind.
Maul’s lightsaber had just arrived on Coruscant, hooked to the belt of a Jedi.
**A Minor (Major) Detail**
Anakin was a bit disappointed that he and Obi-Wan were getting sent to the Temple ahead of the others. He remembered that Palpatine had arrived last time to greet Padme, and while the man didn’t know him now, Anakin had been looking forward to re-meeting his friend. But removing the slave chips took precedence, and everyone had agreed that Ani’s should be the first to go, so now he and Obi-Wan were on their way to the Temple with Anakin’s little brother sitting nervously between them.
Anakin felt his heart go out to his mini. He remembered this feeling, awe and terror in equal measure, wanting to look out the window to see the grandeur of Courscant fly past, but still not sure if he was allowed to, what with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan sitting next to him looking so serene. He wished Mom had agreed to go instead of him. There had been nothing he had wished for more than for his Mother at this point, but before she had been left behind, and now she insisted on helping the other rescued slaves get settled in their new lodgings safely.
“I’ll join you as soon as I can,” she’d said, a hand on each of her son’s shoulders. “But Shuri needs help with a group this large, and my chip has already been removed. And don’t worry about anyone trying to take us back either, Anakin! Cody and Rex will be with us, as well as some of Captain Panaka’s men.”
Anakin understood, and he trusted Cody and Rex to not let anything happen to any of their refugees, it was just… this was his Mom. He’d lost her once. He didn’t think he could survive losing her again. He looked down at Ani, who was doing his best to see as much as he could without moving more than his head. He absolutely wanted to protect Ani from the pain of losing her at all.
“We’re approaching the Temple now,” Obi-Wan said, a small smile on his face as both Anakin and his mini looked at him in surprise. “Would you like to see? It’s quite the view.” Anakin couldn’t help but be a bit suspicious. Obi-Wan hadn’t been mean to him, exactly, last time. He’d just been… withdrawn. Distant. And now, both Obi-Wan and Ben were being so attentive to mini…
Anakin wasn’t jealous. He wasn’t.
… Maybe if he kept saying it, he would convince himself.
While he’d been distracted by his thoughts, Ani had scrambled over to be closer to Obi-Wan’s window. “It’s huge,” he breathed out in awe, and Anakin could sympathize. “How many Jedi live here?”
“Somewhere around ten thousand, currently,” Obi-Wan answered, not even flinching as Ani’s knees dug into his legs so the boy could get a better view. “It’s housed even more, in the past. And it goes as deep as Coruscant itself. “
That startled a laugh out of Obi-Wan. “Yes, I suppose it is. I’ve lived here my whole life, so I’m afraid I’m a bit numb to the scale of it.”
“How does anyone find their way around? Don’t you get lost,” Ani asked, and Anakin laughed.
“Oh, everyone gets lost. Even Obi-Wan here needs a map.”
Obi-Wan sniffed indignantly, though he was still smiling, so Anakin figured he wasn’t hurt by his teasing. “Everyone needs a map, thank you very much, Knight Skywalker.” He turned back to Ani. “Don’t let any Initiates fool you into thinking the Force guides us through the halls or some such nonsense. The Force can guide, but the Temple is always being renovated, so it will often guide you right into a wall.”
Anakin and Ani laughed at that, Ani scooting back to his seat as they approached their landing pad.
“Who’s that,” Ani suddenly asked, craning his neck. “They look like they’re waiting.” Anakin looked at the landing pad and felt his stomach drop.
“Ah,” Obi-Wan said, his face going blank. “Master Windu. He likely expects Master Qui-Gon to be with us.”
Ani shrank back against Anakin, and he put an arm around his shoulders. “Hey, it’s going to be okay. Nobody owns anyone here. I promise.”
Obi-Wan’s blank mask dropped, leaving him looking shocked and horrified. “Of course not! Why would –“
Anakin glared at him.
“…Oh. No, Ani, it’s not like that. It’s more like… when someone has mastered a skill, such as engineering, or architecture, they might be called a Master of their craft. It just means they have skills they can pass on, not that they own those seeking to learn from them.”
“Okay…” Ani muttered, but he still didn’t move away from Anakin’s side, and rather than force him away, Anakin simply picked him up and carried him out of their speeder. Ani glanced nervously at Master Windu as the man approached, a disapproving frown on his face. Anakin knew it was disapproving because he had long ago become familiar with the extra furrow that separated his disapproving frown from his general disappointed frown.
“Padawan Kenobi,” Master Windu greeted, glancing over at Anakin and Ani. A single eyebrow quirked up a calculated quarter of an inch. Ani attempted to burrow even further into Anakin’s shoulder. Anakin did his best to keep a neutral expression.
“Apologies, Master Windu, but Master Qui-Gon has assigned me to deal with an emergency, and I’m afraid it can’t wait. He’ll be along as soon as the Queen of Naboo has departed her ship.”
The other eyebrow went up. “What kind of emergency, Padawan?”
“The Queen’s ship was forced to make an emergency landing for repairs, during which we acquired several refugees. They all have Class Five implants that should be removed as soon as possible, though the young one here was deemed most critical. Master Qui-Gon will explain,” Obi-Wan said, without so much as flinching under Master Windu’s stare. Not for the first time Anakin found himself wishing he could sound half as confident when trying to talk to any member of the High Council off of a battle field.
“Why was the boy most critical? Is he ill?” Something seemed to soften in Master Windu’s expression, and Anakin had to stop himself from doing a double-take. Ben had always said Master Windu didn’t hate him, but Anakin had never really believed it. But maybe…
“He had a midichlorian count of over twenty-thousand, Master Windu. Master Qui-Gon thought it prudent to bring him to the Temple as quickly as possible, so as not to have him overwhelmed.”
Both eyebrows went up again. Master Windu was still looking at Anakin as though he were suspicious, but at least he didn’t seem like he was going to stop them anymore. “A good call on your Master’s part then, Padawan. Escort them to the Halls of Healing. I’m sure your Master will have returned by the time you’ve finished.”
“Of course Master Windu.”
Obi-Wan beckoned them inside, and Anakin breathed a sigh of relief.
It was good to be home.
**Friends With Good Intentions**
Obi-Wan should have known his luck would run out. Between Master Windu letting them enter the Temple so easily, minimal encounters with curious Knights, Initiates and Padawans, and Knight Skywalker and Ani being taken into a room in the Halls of Healing almost as soon as they arrived, things had been going far too smoothly for his luck to hold. He’d almost made it out of the Halls without being scheduled for an appointment, when –
Obi-Wan’s childhood friend rose from his seat in the waiting lobby, setting a data pad precariously atop a pile of others, before approaching with his usual confident stride and lopsided grin. “Haven’t seen you in the Temple for a while! You feeling alright?”
Three red warning flags immediately went up in Obi-Wan’s mind. The first was the fact that Quinlan appeared to have been waiting in his now abandoned seat for some time, judging by the teetering stack of datapads. Many Jedi didn’t enjoy spending time in the Halls of Healing for extended periods of time, for a variety of reasons. Quinlan’s was that his gift with psychometry made him inclined to avoid places where he might pick up troubling or stressful memories from the objects he touched, when he was given the option. The Healers, for all they tried, couldn’t successfully scrub away their memories from the tools and droids they used, and thus Quinlan avoided the place like it was infested with plague, unless he had an appointment that he couldn’t slip out of, or one of his friends was in the Halls.
The second was Quinlan’s question. Was he feeling alright. Quinlan had no reason to immediately assume that Obi-Wan wasn’t alright. Yet there was a cautiousness in Quinlan’s eyes, a hard edge in his smile, and it made Obi-Wan nervous.
The third, and strangest by far, was the fact that Quinlan had yet to touch Obi-Wan at all. Quinlan was not shy about physical contact with those he considered friends, and usually by now Obi-Wan would have been the recipient of a friendly punch to his shoulder, a hardy slap on the back, or a spine-cracking hug. Instead, Quinlan just… invaded his personal space, carefully not touching Obi-Wan, as though he thought his friend would crumble at the slightest touch.
“I’m well, Quinlan,” he finally answered.
“Good, that’s good. I just – I have a question.” Obi-Wan folded his arms, raising an eyebrow curiously. What was Quinlan up to? “Why did you get rid of the beard?” Obi-Wan blinked. “I mean, I saw it on Tatooine. It was great, easily your best try yet. So… where did it go?”
Suddenly, everything made much more sense. “Ah. You seem to have mistaken me for my Uncle.”
“… You’re what now?”
“My Uncle, Jedi Master Ben Kenobi. He and Master Qui-Gon should be arriving at the shuttle pads any minute now, so I really must –“
“Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are not going anywhere!” Obi-Wan turned to see Bant standing behind him, tapping her foot. “You are late on a physical because of how long you’ve been out of the Temple, and you’ve been in the Outer Rim to boot! Please follow me.” Obi-Wan wilted. There was no getting away now. “Thank you for stopping him, Quinlan. You are excused.”
“But –“ Quinlan said, glancing between Obi-Wan and Bant.
“He’s in good hands, Quinlan,” Bant insisted as Obi-Wan shuffled past her. “I’ll call you if any further interventions are needed.” Obi-Wan cast a final glance over his shoulder to see Quinlan staring after him, a confused expression on his face. Somehow, he knew that his friend wasn’t going to let this drop.
Things had just gotten far more complicated.