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Buy a slave, save the galaxy!

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Captain Xanfrei Jyhn muttered under his breath as he walked through Mos Espa. His beloved ship had taken some damage and as a result he needed some parts. Verdi had business here so he had figured why not knock out two birds with one well timed lightning blast and find parts here as well, because efficiency was important.

Efficiency his ass! He hated this planet with its loathsome Hutt government, stupid double suns, godawful sand and heat and complete lack of any usable parts for his ship! Really! It was a standard Corellian Consular class, used for diplomats and the like by the Republic. They should have plenty of parts. Given, he had heavily modified it, but things like exterior paneling or repulsorlift components shouldn’t be too rare.

He had already dug through four junkyards and he was sick of it. He had enough with this nonsense and was getting back to his ship. He would manually lift cargo or use his somewhat iffy Force abilities to fake a repuslorlift until he could find parts on some non-sandy, non-sunbaked, non-parts-deprived hellhole of a planet!

Unfortunately his plans were diverted by a sudden tug in his mind. The son of a Dathomir witch and a slightly drugged-up Jedi sighed heavily, knowing what it meant. Turning he trudged into what he swore would be the last sand-infested junk shop he went to. The absolute last, Force prompted diversions or not.

The Toydarian was annoying as any salesman, and Jyhn easily ignored him, looking around for the source of the Force’s pull and some useful parts. He finally spotted one of the two in the miserable outline of a boy slowly working on a droid of some sort. Blonde hair drooped in front of his face, every line of his body working to form a picture of absolute dejection. The collar around the boy’s neck was all Xan needed to know he was going to have to do something. He had been a slave for three very long years and was not going to tolerate another Force sensitive going through the same thing if he could help it.

Turning back to the piles of junk so he could look like he was going to make a legitimate purchase, he suppressed a sigh. Convincing the Toydarian was going to be a pain in the ass.

The Force was obviously determined he not leave without the boy however, because a perfect situation arose. While he was digging through a pile to get to the repulsorlift part he could see which was the exact part he needed (thank the Force this wasn’t just about the kid!) he heard a sudden commotion in the front of the shop interrupted by a cry of pain.

Grabbing the part and strolling back in, knowing appearing too concerned wouldn’t let this pan out, he raised an eyebrow at the Toydarian verbally abusing the boy in Huttese. It appeared some disgruntled pod racers had come in and roughed him up while the Toydarian was doing something else and the boy had not only broken an arm but been unable to stop them from swiping some merchandise.

“This is it boy! First person that makes an offer on you is getting your sorry carcass!” the hovering blue alien shouted. From the resigned look on the boy’s face, this was not the first time he had heard the threat.

Well too bad, he obviously hadn’t had the right Force-sensitive piloting god listening into the conversation.

“Excellent, I could use a mechanically inclined boy for my operation,” Xan interrupted smoothly. “Two thousand.”

The look on the aliens face showed he obviously hadn’t truly meant it, it was a bluff, but since someone had called him on it he couldn’t back down because that would be a weakness. And in a place like Mos Espa, weakness was not something anyone who wanted to run a business could afford. So the best thing to do was get the most money he could.

With that they settled in for some serious bargaining, Xan not going as low as he wanted because the boy was going into shock with his broken arm and the sudden bidding for his collar going on. Probably more the broken arm and exhaustion than anything else, but thankfully he knew someone who could get that seen to.

“Agreed, four-thousand six hundred,” he said, tossing in another hundred for the part he was buying. It wasn’t worth more than twenty but he didn’t feel like staying here for long arguing it down and just wanted the damn Toydarian to shut up and give him the kid’s collar control so he could get out of here and get that arm looked at.

“Just as well,” the alien groused, handing over the controller and accepting the money in return. “Looks like the kids not gonna be much good after this anyway.”

Xan looked over at the boy and suppressed a curse or fifty. He had fallen unconscious. Throwing the lad over his shoulder, he carried his part in the other hand as he fumbled for his comlink, hoping to call Verdi in order to get a ride to the spaceport. His only other crewmember was a doctor so with any luck he could treat the kid’s arm.

Of course Verdi didn’t pick up, so instead Xan commandeered a nearby speeder, dumping his passenger in the back before taking off, figuring he could just abandon it at the station and it would make its way back to the owner eventually. Or not. Either way they shouldn’t have left an unsecured speeder around for people like him to take advantage of, so he was really just teaching a valuable life lesson.

Reaching spaceport 19 he picked the kid up again and went to his ship, keying in the access code and sensing for Verdi anywhere nearby. Sure enough, Verdi was walking down the ramp to him as soon as it started coming down. Why the hell hadn’t he answered his call then? Blasted doctor.

Raising an eyebrow at him, Verdi said dryly, “You know, when most people impulse shop, they come back with a new datapad, some nice shoes, maybe an antique blaster. Not an eight-year-old junkyard slave.”

“Shut up and get him treatment. Pretty sure he broke his arm at least, in shock, unconscious, that jazz. Can we get off this Force-forsaken dustball?” Xan snapped, Verdi shrugging and taking the kid, the green-haired Correllian clearly unsurprised by his sour mood. While his co-pilot and best friend dealt with the kid he latched everything down, closed the hatches, sealed the ship and got cleared for take-off. By the time Verdi came back up to the cockpit, he had gotten them into space and was punching in the nav commands to hyperspace jump them to their next job on Bandomeer.

“Kid’s asleep. Got the control to get that collar off him?” Verdi asked, and Xan fished it out of his pocket and tossed it to him. The man turned around and left with it, leaving him to his brooding.

As they made the jump to hyperspace, Xan found himself dwelling on the Force prompted purchase he had sitting in medical. It wasn’t some urge to just help the boy, the Force had clearly wanted him to get him out of the situation – right?

When they reached the spaceport, he started feeling on edge, like he’d made a mistake buying the boy, but damn it! He wasn’t just going to leave the boy enslaved! A Force sensitive being enslaved was doubly torturous since they usually used Force suppressants and he couldn’t bear the idea of a child being under those. He had been eleven when he was put into Force deprived slavery and those three years before he had escaped had been absolute hell.

Shaking off the feeling, Xan let it go, tension dissipating. He let a long breath out. What was done was done. He had bought and freed the boy and for better or worse it appeared he had a young Force sensitive mechanically inclined hand on board. Better tell Verdi this crewmate was for keeps.

===***===pagebreak===***===

Anakin Skywalker woke up slowly, not recognizing the durasteel room he was in. It looked like descriptions of ship medical bays, but that made no sense. Watto would never let him on a ship! Trying to sit up, he found he couldn’t but for some reason that didn’t seem alarming. Actually, none of this seemed alarming, just odd.

He was obviously drugged, because otherwise he was pretty sure he’d be panicking. But panicking was too much effort right now, he decided, blinking sleepily at the ceiling.

“Ah, our latest crewmember is awake!” an unfamiliar voice said in Basic. Anakin turned his head slightly and saw a green haired human grinning at him. The man looked like he was pretty tall, probably had to stoop through doorways, and had a smile that seemed genuine; it traveled to his brown eyes anyway. And Anakin couldn’t help but feel like he could trust this guy. His mother had always told him his instincts were awesome, so he followed them as often as he could.

Wait a parsec – crewmember? What the – had Watto actually sold him? But what about his mom? 

Anakin was very grateful for the drugs right now, otherwise he would really be panicking. But for now he could remain somewhat calm. “Hi,” he said blandly, “Is my mom here?”

Judging by the way the guy blanched, he hadn’t known Anakin had a mother. So she wasn’t. That would make this awkward and sucky.

“Uhh, one moment while I check you over. You had a break in your arm and some scarring on your neck from that collar, so I want to check it real fast. Let me call the Captain though, he can answer your questions,” the man dodged, heading to the intercom and saying, “Captain to medbay immediately.”

“On my way,” another voice replied and the man relaxed, turning back to Anakin. “Here, let me help you sit up and we’ll get this examination over with hmm? What’s your name? I’m Verdi Nimbus, Corellian doctor and first mate on this ship.”

“Anakin Skywalker,” he replied, finally sitting up and getting a good look around. It was definitely a ship medical bay from the conversation, and seemed in pretty good condition, just a little worn from use. But it seemed like the ship would have no problem holding together at least.

“Nice to meet you Anakin,” the man said, poking and prodding at his right arm.

“So what’s up Verdi?” a new man asked, walking through the door. “Hey kid! Good to see you’re awake.”

“Anakin, this is our captain and pilot, Xanfrei Jyhn. I just call him Xan,” Verdi introduced, and Anakin smiled weakly at the black-haired man.

“Hi – do you know what happened to my mom?” that wince was not promising, not promising at all.

“Sithspit,” the man swore, hopping up to take a seat on one of the medical beds, thick braid swinging behind him. “Kiddo I didn’t know your mom was around or I would have at least gone to see her. Watto sold you to me after that incident with the podracers.”

Anakin had figured as much, but the drugs seemed to be wearing off and he was going to start freaking out soon. “Wha- what are you going to do with me?”

“Well first off, we got that collar off your neck. You’re young enough that there shouldn’t be any permanent scarring, especially since yours came off legitimately and not with some creative machine work,” the man smiled wryly, indicating the scarring around his own neck. “You’re not a slave. I don’t agree with slavery at all as I’m sure you can imagine.”

Anakin nodded slowly. If he had ever been freed he wouldn’t care for slavery either – wait a minute, he was free! Sweet suns he was free! Eyes widening incredulously, he stared at his savior in disbelief. He was actually free!

“So you have some choices,” here the man frowned. “First off, we can take you back to your mom. We can do that anyway and you can visit no matter what, but you need to realize that with you free she’ll have to work to feed both of you until you can find a job and not many will hire a freed kid. The other option is we find you a place somewhere in this wide old ‘verse where you can get some schooling, grow up with other kids, work your way in the world and live your life however. We’d just be those weird guys who happened to free you.”

“The third option,” a small smile flickered across the man’s face, “Is personally my favorite. You stay with us as a sort of junior crewmember. I know, smuggler’s life isn’t really suitable for kids, but I’m not like most smugglers. I take more legitimate cargo than I don’t, thanks to my reputation. And from what I saw in the shop you are pretty mechanically inclined and have some good instincts. I could use a copilot. You’d need training, but I can see potential if you survive Tatooine’s podraces. And mechanics are always useful on a ship.”

“I wanna see my mom,” Anakin said immediately, tilting his head obediently so Verdi could look at his neck.

“Okay. We have a cargo run to make, but we can head back to Tatooine then and find your mom and talk to her. It’ll probably take two and a half to three weeks,” Xan explained and Anakin nodded. That made sense, and if they would still take him back to his mom (and they freed him!) then he’d be able to work with a few weeks without seeing her.

Verdi finished up his work and nodded to his boss. The kid was in the clear, “Just stay off that arm, don’t use it for much for another couple of days okay? The bacta did the trick and it was a simple break, but no need to stress the bone too much, all right?”

“Thanks mister Nimbus,” Anakin said politely.

“Verdi kid, Verdi. Space if we’re going to be travelling together for a few weeks might as well be on first name terms, we don’t stand much on formality here,” the doctor laughed, putting his tools away.

“Let me show you where you’ll be staying then. We don’t have much in your size, so you’ll have to wait on clothes till we get to Bandomeer in a few days, then we can at least get you enough that you won’t have to wear the same thing for days at a time. If you can do some mechanical work and pilot training while you’re here, then I can earmark some profits as your own wages and take the clothes out of that so there’s no debts incurred,” Xan explained, resting a hand on Anakin’s shoulder as he guided the slowly walking boy out of the medbay.

“How many people are on the ship?” Anakin asked, looking around at everything he could. They were walking down a central corridor towards what he figured was the aft of the ship. There wasn’t anything in the way of decoration in the hallway, the plain metal scuffed a bit but still pretty clean.

“Just the three of us. Have two astromechs and a cleaning droid that takes care of the main interior spaces. Your room will be your responsibility. Since there aren’t any other crew members you can have the crew quarters to yourself, though there are three bunks right now. Just use the extra for storage space if you want. There are two passenger rooms which can either be private or fit eight, depending on how we lay it out. We’re primarily freight though we do take some passengers,” Xan said, pushing a button to open a door to a room a bit bigger than Anakin’s at home, but with three beds instead of one.

“Little cramped, but the beds can be flipped up into the wall,” Xan smoothly flipped up the closest one and it tucked into the wall smoothly, latched so it lay flush against it with shelving space hollowed out in the metal bedframe. “You can choose any of them, but that one’s a little close to the door.”

“I’ll use the far one, thanks,” Anakin said quietly, slightly overwhelmed with everything that was happening.

“Figured. Clothes are on that shelving unit, some of them shouldn’t be too oversized. ‘Fresher is supposed to be shared by the three occupants of this room and the three in the next, but the next one is a small library and is sealed off from the fresher and you’re the only one here,” the captain scratched his head, looking at Anakin thoughtfully. “I’m pretty sure that’s it, any questions?”

“N-no,” Anakin stammered, still staring in shock at the new space that was apparently all his. Sure it was just about the size of his old room, but… new clothes that looked warmer than his desert gear, a refresher all to himself, a whole ship to explore and a guy who said he’d teach him to fly and most of all – he was free!

The man chuckled at his stare, and suggested gently, “You can try out your fresher and then get some sleep. I know you just woke up but you look exhausted.”

“Thanks,” Anakin said suddenly, looking up at the man. “I – I don’t know how I can ever repay you for all this.”

“Don’t worry about it kid. Us Force-sensitives have to stick together, yeah?” the man grinned wryly before leaving the room, leaving a totally confused eight-year-old behind.

“Force what’s?” he asked into the silence.

===***===pagebreak===***===

“So Verdi, what’s the verdict on Anakin?” Xan asked, grabbing a cup of caf before taking a seat in the small galley. The ship was meant to have a crew of eight – six standard crew members, a doctor and the captain. There were quarters for another five security personnel but those quarters had been cannibalized and joined into one large room for sparring. As a result, the galley dining area was echoingly empty with just the two of them.

“Good. Kid’s in good physical condition, hasn’t been beaten excessively and overall is in far better condition than you were when I found you,” Verdi said mildly, sipping at his tea. “There were no Force suppressors though, which you asked me to look for.”

“Absolutely none? But the boy is fairly glowing with it!” Xan said, surprised, “He felt like the Jedi Masters I would meet, given, untrained, but powerful. How could the Jedi have missed him without suppressors?”

“They don’t take anything but infants and toddlers Xan, if he had even been five when they found him they probably wouldn’t take him,” Verdi replied, “Besides, Jedi probably don’t make it to Tatooine too often.”

“Point,” Xan sighed, “Well how’d the rest of the Tatooine mission go? Can we fill this empty hole?”

“Yep, finally got enough parts we can convert half this into a pretty nice hydroponics unit. Maybe even some small fruit trees,” Verdi smiled happily at the thought. Hydroponics units were expensive to set up, prohibitively so, but if you could get one going it would pay for itself pretty quickly as long as you had appropriate maintenance. Thankfully Verdi had experience with them. The clinic where he had worked on Correllia had been high class, having rooms with various biospheres for different species to feel more comfortable in and he had helped with maintenance. This had been a three year project and the final components were pretty common on water-lacking Tatooine so now they had those and the project could get underway.

“Good, see if you can get the kid involved,” Xan recommended, “Then you can keep an eye on him and make sure he’s not overusing that arm of his. He’s asleep right now, or should be at any rate he seemed pretty tired, so I figured I’d check on him before we eat dinner.”

“Nice idea. Any guesses as to the kid’s choice?” Verdi raised an eyebrow, “You realize if he stays with us we’ll basically be raising a kid right? I’ve had children, not an easy proposition.”

“I know, I’ve been involved in raising kids too sometimes, and I know it’s harder full-time, but I wasn’t going to leave a Force sensitive to rot, especially since it seems he doesn’t know what a treasure that is,” Xan frowned. “If he really needs to learn control we may need to stop by Dathomir.”

“I really hate visiting that planet,” Verdi shuddered, “All males are slaves and crazy rancors trying to eat me all the time.”

“My mom’s settlement is pretty mild, the guys aren’t bad off, they just can’t have leadership roles,” Xan reassured him, though he knew Verdi already knew that, “And I’m sure if you ask nicely one of the witches will keep their evil rancors away from you.”

Verdi glowered at his teasing. His last encounter with one of the witches had not ended very well, though everyone else thought it was hilarious.

Xan just snickered.

===***===pagebreak===***===

“Hey, Anakin?” an unfamiliar voice said gently, someone shaking his shoulder. “Skywalker, wake up, kiddo. You need to eat.”

Opening his eyes blearily, Anakin looked up into the weathered face of the captain. Dark eyebrows quirked at his momentarily blank expression, but then Anakin remembered what was going on.

“Oh, sorry Mr. Xanfrei sir,” he said hurriedly, sitting up quickly and then wincing as the world spun and his arm throbbed.

“Whoa there kid, don’t move too fast, you’re probably faint from lack of food. IVs really don’t cut it,” the captain smiled, “And it’s Xan, Xanfrei if you must.”

“S-sorry Xanfrei,” Anakin shivered, suddenly cold. The captain noticed and grabbed one of the pieces of clothes from the shelf, unfolding it to reveal a coat. He tucked it over Anakin’s shoulders and the leather jacket nearly dragged on the floor when he stood up, but he already felt a little warmer.

“You’ll grow into it,” Xan assured him, amusement clear on his face. “Come on, let’s get some food. Space food leaves something to be desired, but Verdi can do some crazy stuff with it.”

Anakin was guided through the ship again, Xan keeping a hand between his shoulder blades to propel him along. He could also tell that the man was ready to catch him if he stumbled or fell, which he was grateful for. His legs felt a little wobbly. He frowned, that wasn’t normal – he was free to admit he was usually too proud to admit he needed help, why was he suddenly grateful this stranger offered it?

Was he still drugged up?

“Did you dose me with something?” he asked suspiciously, looking up at the man. The Captain didn’t deny it or get angry, he just frowned thoughtfully and said, “It should have worn off. Just a pain-killer, had a sedative in it too I think so you didn’t come to while Verdi was working on your arm. Still feeling wonky?”

“No-o,” Anakin said slowly, taking careful stock of himself. From getting in brawls with Kitster he knew how to pretty accurately guess when something was wrong and what it was. He didn’t feel woozy, and his reaction times didn’t seem to be off. So it wasn’t sedatives that were making him so calm about this then. Something else was at work here.

Xan, meanwhile, was watching the boy out of the corner of his eye as he propelled him into the galley. Anakin was obviously doing some heavy thinking, his expression gave it away, and the Force was swirling around him with such… joy, that he found it hard to believe anyone could have missed the potential this boy had. Every time he so much as breathed the Force pulsed.

It was comforting, strangely enough. Usually wary around any being which had more power than him, Xan found himself at ease with the kid’s unconscious strength, basking in the contentment the Force contained when Anakin was near.

He momentarily shoved to the back of his mind what would happen when Anakin got angry or depressed. The idea of trying to captain a ship while sobbing his heart out because of the Force spreading an adolescent’s woe was not appealing. Verdi, naturally, would find it hilarious if it happened.

Dathomir and a visit to his lovely mother were definitely looking likely.

“There’s the guest of honor!” Verdi grinned, balancing two trays of food on his arm and heading to the small table the two of them always used, a third chair dragged over so Anakin could join them. “Xan, you can carry your own food. Grab me some tea, would you?”

“Would you like wine with that, good sir?” Xan replied in a posh Coruscanti accent, grinning at his friend while Anakin sat down, Verdi sliding a tray in front of him. Somehow, with creative use of spices and food-dyes Xan was sure, Verdi had managed to make space-food look not only edible, but appealing.

“A dry Alderaan green would go well with the protein dish, thank you,” he waved off, taking a seat as Xan headed to get his own food, shaking his head at Verdi’s pretensions.

Sitting down moments later with Verdi’s cup of green tea and his own meal, Xan was unsurprised to find his second had drawn the boy into conversation about the hydroponics project. Anakin became more animated as the conversation became more technical. Xan was pleased to see his guess was right; the boy was a truly gifted mechanic.

“So with the dimensions we’re looking at, it becomes a problem of volume to output ratios…” and off they went, Xan merely plowing through Verdi’s concoction (amazing, as usual) and eavesdropping. He was a good hand with tools himself, he often found himself singlehandedly keeping his Consular class ship together after some of their riskier runs, but Verdi had this conversation well at hand. And he was hungry.

“But the draining system would have to be partitioned so we can do repairs on part of the system without drying up the whole set, right?”

“Yes, we planned for that, but what is giving us trouble is determining the optimum number of partitions…” Verdi trailed off leadingly, scraping up the last bite of his food.

“Yeah, parts to efficiency and all,” Anakin nodded, having already finished.

“I’ll clear this off and get the schematics so we can look over them together,” Xan offered, and judging by the brilliant grin he got from both his tablemates the offer was much appreciated.

They ended up poring over the schematics with Anakin for a few hours. The boy was filled with questions and ideas, nearly exploding with excitement when the multiple pages of schematics had been laid out in front of him. They were as detailed as any contractor could hope for, since he and Verdi had drawn them themselves, and Anakin obviously appreciated their efforts.

It wasn’t until he had rolled up the papers and Verdi had fetched some hot drinks – tea for Xan and him, milk with cinnamon sugar for Anakin – that Anakin asked a question which had obviously been bothering him for some time.

Taking a happy sip of the drink (which he had initially viewed with immense suspicion), he hesitated before looking at Xan through lowered lashes. “Mis… ah, Xan?”

“Yeah Anakin?” he prompted, relieved the kid finally felt comfortable enough to drop the full name. Every time Anakin used it he felt like he was in front of his mother again.

“What’s a Force-sensitive?”

Xan felt like he had been drop-kicked. This boy, so alive in the Force, didn’t know what he was? Then his logic caught up with the rest of him and he put together the pieces which should have fallen together automatically. The boy had never been found by the Jedi, Force knew why, so he obviously had no idea there was anything unusual about his hunches or instincts being unusually accurate. Tatooine was not exactly a hot-bed of Jedi supporters and Republic enthusiasts, so it was entirely possible he had never even heard of the Jedi, much less the strange powers they had due to the Force.

“Well, it’s…” Xan struggled to find the words. The Force, how could he explain something so basic, so central, that he felt he had always known about it and been able to detect its presence?

Taking a deep breath, he centered himself and released his anxiety. It was getting in the way of the more important matter, explaining to this boy what a gem he was without giving him the ego the size of a supernova.

“The Force is what we call a mystical energy that binds every living thing together. The universe is all connected via the Force and there are some people who are sensitive to it. Have you heard of the Jedi?” Xan began, and was relieved to see Anakin nod. That took a load off. “They use the Force to accomplish their feats, as well as their extensive training and lightsabers.”

“So… I can sense this Force?” Anakin asked hesitantly.

Xan nodded solemnly, “You can. I’m certain you have used it without actually knowing it. Do you ever have hunches? Guesses that just seem to tell you if someone is trustworthy, or going to try to knife you?”

“Yeah,” Anakin said slowly, “My mom always said to trust my instincts.”

“Your mother is a very smart woman,” Xan nodded, smiling slightly at the instant brightness praising his mother gave Anakin. “Especially with Force-sensitives, our instincts and hunches have a tendency to be right. Still, you can’t just act on your hunches. You need solid evidence and skill to be able to actually react to those instincts in a way that won’t just make the situation worse.”

“You said ‘our’, so… you’re one too?”

“Yes, but not nearly so sensitive as I believe you are,” Xan replied. The blood work had been processed and when Verdi had told him the midichlorian results he had nearly spat his caf all over the man. More than 20,000 per cell? That was… insane! He had 9,000 per cell, already far above average even for some of the Jedi.

“Oh. So...” Anakin bit his lip. “I think I’ll need to talk to my mom about it when we get back.”

“Good idea, mom’s always know more than the rest of us about their kids,” Xan winked. “I know mine always seemed to know what I was up to before I did!”

“I know!” Anakin exclaimed, “Mom’s totally the same way! If Kitster and I were ever even considering messing around she would just give me this look like she knew exactly what I was going to try and pull!”

“I’m telling you, I think it’s a Force thing. Mother’s instantly gain sensitivity to the Force when they give birth or something,” Xan shook his head. There had actually been a study published on that a few decades back, and it was true for the first few months after birth, but usually the elevated levels faded back to normal for the subject after six months or so. Some didn’t though, the anomalies. Maybe Anakin’s mom was one of those. Or Anakin just had a horrible poker face.

Well if it was the latter, they’d fix that soon enough. He caught the kid’s yawn and grinned, hand shooting out to ruffle his hair, “Tired yet?” he teased.

The shock in Anakin’s eyes at the gesture faded quickly and he grinned back sheepishly, “Yeah a bit. But I slept so much already!” he whined.

“Unconscious induced by sedatives does not count as sleep,” Verdi snorted. “Come on kid, I’ll take you back. Need to check on your arm real fast before you crash.”

“Okay, okay,” Anakin sighed, draining the last of his milk and following Verdi out the door. Xan shook his head fondly and took the three cups to go back to the servo before turning it on. After a quick chat with Verdi, it was time for him to hit his own bunk. There were still going to be superluminal for a few days, so might as well catch the rest while he could.

Catching Verdi locking up the med-bay’s supply of drugs, he asked, “What do you think?”

“I think he’ll be a real asset if he wants to stay on. Worth the hassle of raising him I think, how about you?” the Correllian said, lounging on a repulsor bed.

Xan hopped up on the same bed and folded his legs so he was sitting comfortably at Verdi’s feet. “I think he’s worth it. The Force,” he let out a low whistle, “I wish you could feel it Ver, it’s incredible. Just incredible.”

“So Dathomir’s in the cards?”

“Oh yes,” Xan nodded, “I need to ask my mother for control exercises for him at the very least. That much potential going to no active use… criminal as far as I’m concerned. He’ll be no Jedi, but he’ll be amazing all the same.”

“So are you going to get more active on your Force training then? You’ve been letting it slide the past few years, just using it as a trouble sensor really,” Verdi raised an eyebrow, “You used to be able to pull some pretty impressive tricks yourself if I recall.”

“Still could if I had to, but it wouldn’t be as effortless as before,” Xan sighed, “Yeah, I will. Can’t let the kid work harder than me, right? Bad image to present as a captain. Besides, my mother’s going to kick my ass for letting it slide these past years as it is, if I didn’t intend to sincerely study again, she’d sic a rancor on me.” He shuddered theatrically, but not all of it was faked. His mother was a pretty terrifying woman.

===***===pagebreak===***===

Verdi found himself smiling a lot more often with Anakin around. There wasn’t much to smile about on Bandomeer, it was a badly abused mining world that was only starting to get better thanks to the fairly recent environmental restoration efforts that were going on. But the kid managed to get him to smile more on planetside than he had in a long time. Xan was great, but his friend and he seldom spent their time on planet together, going their separate ways in order to be more efficient. Xan was big on efficiency.

They were walking through the market district, picking up essentials (like clothes and a toothscrubber for Anakin) as well as some more luxury items (an interesting medallion for Xan, a funny rock carving for Anakin, and a small sample of one of Bandomeer’s few native plants for him). Well, Verdi was walking. Anakin was running around like a Jawa turned loose in a junkyard, clearly amazed by everything he was seeing.

When the comm unit he carried in his shirt pocket went off, Verdi knew it had been too good to last. “Verdi here,” he said.

“Get to the ship,” Xan said shortly. He sounded tense, and a tense Xan meant a bad situation. Usually involving injuries, more often than not at least some of them were Xan’s.

Automatically sweeping the area for threats with his gaze, he said back, “Will do,” before quickly grabbing Anakin. “Come on kid, we need to get back to the ship. Xan’s run into some trouble,” he explained, walking quickly through the crowds. His height and confident stance split the crowds in front of him, Anakin right beside him, though at a light jog to keep up.

“Is Xan going to be okay?” Anakin asked worriedly as they cut through an alley to get to the spaceport side entrance.

Verdi grinned down at him, “Hey, we may not be Jedi, but we can take care of ourselves. You worry about getting onto the ship with our stuff okay? You remember how to prep for takeoff and get the engines lit?”

“Yep!” he replied, totally confident.

“Okay, good. You take these things, do that, and I’ll find Xan so we can get off this rock fast with the least amount of trouble possible,” Verdi said. This was already more convenient with the two of them. Normally he had to get back to the ship and stay with it, waiting for Xan to get to him so they could take off. Otherwise he had to grab Xan and then get to a ship they needed to start, often under some form of hostile assault.

Given, these sorts of things very seldom happened. The Nimbus Djinn and her crew of two had a very solid reputation for both prompt deliveries and decent security for precious cargo. Most often it was just a local misunderstanding Xan felt the need to get embroiled in because some innocent was in the crossfire. As much as the man scoffed at the idea of his being a Jedi, Verdi could easily see it in his actions and mentality. But Dathomir had stopped being searched for suitable children years ago.

Making sure Anakin got on the ship safely, Verdi headed out, comming Xan, “Where?”

“Near spaceport, three blocks north, two alleys west,” Xan’s voice was rushed, interrupted by pauses which indicated he was focusing on his opponents. These ones weren’t just washouts then. They actually had some staying power. That or they had numbers and terrain on their side.

Verdi undid the strap holding his blaster in, keeping pace at a light jog while he worked his brass knuckles onto his right hand. Getting caught competing in an underground fighting ring was what had gotten him thrown out of the Corellian medical community years ago. Thankfully his children had been full grown and his marriage already fallen apart by then, so he didn’t feel too guilty when he took off for the Outer Rim, where a medical license of any sort was considered a bonus.

He heard the fight before he saw it. Grunts of pain and harsh kyas carried a few allies over. No blaster fire though, so it seemed this was an up close and personal kind of fight. Verdi drew his blaster and stepped around the corner, raising the pistol and firing off a shot in one smooth motion which spoke of hours on the range. One of Xan’s adversaries fell, screaming in pain as the flesh around his shoulder sizzled.

Xan leapt over the falling man and ran past Verdi, saying, “Order’s at the docks, get to the ship!”

Verdi kept his blaster out as they ran through the streets, staying on main thoroughfares this time. They didn’t run into any more trouble though and checked the cargo, a few crates of datacards, agricultural and mining samples heading for Mrlsst, before loading it up quickly. Xan also got approval for take-off and as soon as the cargo was aboard he went for the cockpit, taking the pilot seat and handling the take-off, Anakin watching intently as he punched in navigational data and got them into hyperspace.

None of them completely relaxed until they had been superluminal a good three minutes.

Xan hung the headset up and leaned back with a groan. Anakin shifted around so he could get a better look at him while Verdi asked, “You need medical Xan?”

“Just some bruising,” Xan waved off. “Hutts didn’t appreciate my not getting cheated, so they sent those guys after me to try and steal the credits back. Idiots.”

Verdi snorted. This had happened before and they had a system. They had an account with the InterGalactic Banking Clan with the minimum deposit of 150 credits. Every time they made landfall and got a job, as soon as the money was in Xan’s hands he went and deposited it into the account. He then commed Verdi, and he knew they had the money to make purchases while planetside. He would withdraw cash from the account at every retailer he went to, until the account was again down to 150. Xan never carried large amounts of credits for more than an hour after the transaction was made, and very few employers would attack during that hour, since it only made it too obvious exactly who had hired the thugs.

“The greed of a Hutt can be counted on until the end of time,” Verdi quoted. “Pain killer?”

“Nah, maybe tonight before I try to sleep. But not now.”

“All right then. Anakin, can you help me unload everything and get it squared away?”

“Sure thing!” the boy agreed, following Verdi out and leaving Xan alone in the cockpit. The remaining tension in his body eased and he slid out of the chair onto the floor, folding his legs and straightening so he could meditate more effectively. He tried to do this whenever he finished a fight, especially one where he used his best trick.

There had been blasters initially, but Force lightning manipulation destroyed the power-packs, leaving the attackers with nothing more than their fists. Dangerous enough with the six of them against him that he had called Verdi for back-up. Besides, experience showed if he fought off the first group, a second group would be en route within minutes, so it was best to leave the planet quickly. Especially now they had a kid on board.