A long time ago, when the Living Force first willed into existence the various creatures of the galaxy, she created each with a special purpose in mind. The songbirds made music in the skies, the squirrels carried acorns to plant new trees, the frogs ate bugs near ponds and streams, and so forth.
One by one, each creature was woven into reality by the Force, given its purpose, and released to roam free. Soon, the planets of the galaxy teemed with energy and life, with creatures of all sizes and types living in balance with their environments. Everywhere from the glowing jungles of Felucia, to the sandy dunes of Tatooine, to the lush rolling hills of Naboo, vibrant beings roamed and thrived.
And yet...the galaxy was not complete.
The Force realized something was missing, but she could not fathom what.
Reaching inward, she found no new creatures waiting to be created, but bits of pieces of the essences of each, thrumming with purpose and life - the cheerful songbirds that chirped in the trees, the graceful wildcats that prowled in the hills, the brightly colored frogs that lept to amazing heights. The sly fox that ran in the forest, the curious raccoon that caused good-natured trouble, the playful squirrel with its animated chattering.
The Force gathered these essences to her bosom, held them together in her arms until they swirled and coalesced as one, then kissed the peculiar new creature on its soft, furry head before setting him on the ground.
He appeared quite strange, but he moved with such grace, and when he reached the side of the pond where the frogs were jumping about and the birds were singing overhead, he caught his reflection in the water. "Mother Force," he asked, "what am I?"
"You're a tooka," she told him.
"But what's a tooka?" he asked.
"You are," she said, stroking his fur and joining him by the water's edge. "You have the sharp talons of a bird, and the gentle chirrup of one as well. You have the brilliant colors of a treefrog, and the ability to leap through the air. You have the grace of a wildcat, along with its joyful purr. You have the pointy ears and the slyness of a fox, the insatiable curiosity and the stripes of a raccoon, and the playful nature and bushy tail of a squirrel who climbs up the trees just like you can."
As the tooka studied his reflection, he saw frog in the shape of his face, and squirrel in the fluff of his tail, yet he felt no need to forage for nuts or catch bugs. "What is my purpose?" he asked.
"To be loved, of course."
"Loved? But I'm not anything," he said.
"Nonsense," the Force replied. "You're everything. You're all the best pieces of the Living Force, perfectly connected and balanced. And your purpose is that of the Living Force - to connect others, just as I've connected you. To love and be loved. You are soft and warm and sweet. You also have talons and wits. You can be anything from a fierce guardian, to a playful trickster, to a gentle, affectionate companion - because you are everything and your purpose is love."
"But no matter where I go, I won't fit in. Would any creature love a hodgepodge of pieces?"
"All the best pieces in balance as one? Any creature with a beating heart who gives you half a chance."
And so the first tookas set out upon the galaxy, and they found homes among sentients - beings who oftentimes didn't trust one another, and sought solitude over companionship - but who could rarely resist the playful charm and the gentle purr of a tooka in need of love.
Obi-Wan had been Qui-Gon's padawan for a little under half a standard year when he emerged from the 'fresher to find a tooka sitting on his bed.
The little creature had likely come in through the open window, and though its mint-green and daffodil-yellow stripes were perfectly normal markings for a stray Coruscanti alley tooka, there was an odd sort of depth to its jade-green eyes that gave Obi-Wan pause.
The tooka meowed a greeting, like any regular tooka would when it thought it owned the place (which, considering the nature of tookas, was a rather frequent occurrence), and the little creature continued to watch Obi-Wan as he pulled a set of fresh tunics from his closet and began to wrap them around himself.
Obi-Wan intended to ask Qui-Gon what they should do with the little being as the cat trotted after him, the both of them padding into the sitting room Obi-Wan shared with his master.
He didn't have a chance before Qui-Gon's face broke into a wide grin and the tooka darted toward him, meowing an odd chirrup-squeak as it wound its lithe green body through his legs and purred loudly enough to sound like a malfunctioning speeder. "I see you've met Julep," the older Jedi told his apprentice, a fond smile brightening his face.
"One of your pathetic life forms?" Obi-Wan asked.
With an enigmatic smile, Qui-Gon simply replied, "Actually, I believe I'm hers."
Julep watched Qui-Gon expectantly until he lifted her into his arms, at which point she seemed to melt against his body.
"Where'd she come from?" Obi-Wan asked curiously, intrigued at her apparent familiarity with his master.
"From the Living Force, I assume."
"Well I'd think so, yes! That's where we all come from! But you seem so attached to each other. Is that...is that permissible?"
"Padawan, come here," Qui-Gon said, the amusement never leaving his face.
Obi-Wan stepped closer and found himself being handed an armful of fluffy tooka. The creature regarded him curiously and let out a questioning "mrrrow?"
Looking to Qui-Gon for a translation, the older Jedi smiled with warmth in his eyes. "She wants to know if you're also hers."
At Obi-Wan's shocked expression, Qui-Gon simply laughed. "Don't tell the Council I said this, but one of the oldest commandments of the Force is that tookas are meant to be loved. That's why they were created - to be our companions. Now, a proper Jedi-in-training wouldn't wish to go against the will of the Force, would he?"
Obi-Wan regarded the creature in his arms, and after all the lectures he'd received as a youngling about how his emotions were too strong and unfit for a Jedi, only to have Qui-Gon constantly tell him to use the very same feelings that nearly got him shipped off to AgriCorps...he was still afraid to indulge in what he'd finally learned to keep locked away.
But certainly loving one small creature couldn't hurt.
When he allowed his chin to rest atop Julep's head and began rhythmically stroking her back, he couldn't keep the smile from his face at the rumbling purr emanating from her tiny body. "I suppose she can have me if she wants," he said. "After all, I'd hate to go against the will of the Force."
On the evening of Qui-Gon's funeral pyre, Obi-Wan's grief was rendering sleep impossible. He'd fitfully doze for an hour or so, then violently awaken, his dreams haunted by images of his master's lifeless body, of a Zabrak Sith Lord striking him down, of a thrice-damned energy field forcing Obi-Wan to watch helplessly as the brutal monster killed his master before his eyes.
This time he woke again to hear Anakin softly talking to someone in the other room. Was his new apprentice having nightmares as well?
Pulling his sleep tunic tightly around him, he opened the door and stepped into the sitting room, where he'd left Anakin resting on the couch, wrapped in warm blankets and gazing out the window into Coruscant's busy night sky.
"Master Obi-Wan? What's this?" his apprentice asked, now wide awake and having apparently made a new discovery.
Obi-Wan swallowed back a wave of grief at the green and yellow ball of fluff sitting on the couch next to his new padawan, thoroughly enjoying a back scratch from the curious boy. Qui-Gon's tooka. Well, a tooka that had befriended him and Qui-Gon, he mentally corrected himself, since Jedi didn't have possessions, and they certainly didn't have pets, because that led to attachment.
But there was nothing in any code against tookas having possessions, and if this one seemed hellbent on adopting Qui-Gon's entire lineage, it wasn't Obi-Wan's place to stop her. After all, she wasn't his tooka.
"That's a tooka, Anakin." Did they not have tookas on Tatooine?
"A tooka? Those are real? It's so soft!"
"Not it, young one. She. Her name is Julep."
Julep let out the high-pitched mew that was her exclusive greeting for Obi-Wan, and turned to gaze curiously at Anakin.
"Hi, Julep," Anakin said, holding out his hand. Julep raised a bony, bird-like paw and tapped his fingers. "My name is Anakin. It's good to meet you."
Julep cocked her head for a moment, then began purring so loudly Obi-Wan worried the neighbors would wake up. She crawled into Anakin's lap and pressed her face against his neck, contentedly swishing her tail back and forth.
"She sounds like a speeder when the engine's about to go out!" Anakin laughed, burying his face in her fur and grinning like he'd just discovered a magical treasure. He probably had. "She doesn't look hurt though. Is she okay?"
"She's fine, young one. Tookas are felines. That's the noise they make when they're happy. It's called purring."
Anakin considered this for a moment, then turned back to the fluffy bundle on his lap with a brilliant grin. "I'm happy you're here too, Julep," he said, nuzzling his face against the fur on her back.
The cat let out a peculiar noise that Obi-Wan had never heard her make before. It was a quick sort of half-meow with a high-pitched squeak at the end.
"What does that mean?" Anakin asked, turning his head to gaze curiously at his new master.
"I believe it's your name translated into Tooka."
Anakin smiled and continued petting his new friend. "Can she stay here with me tonight? Please?"
Obi-Wan couldn't help but smile in return. "It appears she's already made up her mind."
As the new knight turned to head back to his bedroom, Julep fixed him with a pointed stare and let out an insistent meow.
"I think she wants you to stay too," Anakin said.
"And what makes you say that?"
"I dunno. I can just tell. It's same way I can tell what other people are feeling sometimes."
The cat meowed again, and Obi-Wan obediently walked to the couch and sat down next to his padawan. When Julep purposefully stretched herself across both their laps, Anakin stared at her for a moment, then smiled up at his master. "She's worried about you. She knows you miss Master Qui-Gon and she doesn't want you to be alone right now."
As if confirming Anakin's theory, Julep chirrup-meowed her usual greeting for Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan's heart sank in his chest. "I know, little one," Obi-Wan said sadly, stroking Julep's head. "I miss him too."
Julep chirrup-meowed again, this time more insistently, and she seemed to be gazing past Obi-Wan, looking at something over his shoulder. "He's one with the Force now, Julep," the young knight said softly, scratching under the tooka's chin. "But you honor his memory by comforting us."
With a twitch of her ear and one final glance over Obi-Wan's shoulder, Julep lay her head on her paws and closed her eyes, her warm, purring body spread across the laps of her two pet humans.
"Hmmm? Mastr? You...you got way frm Dooku an...an we're both okay?" Anakin gazed at Obi-Wan through unfocused eyes. His words were half mumbled and nearly incoherent. They were also the first he'd spoken since being taken to the medical center on Theed to undergo surgery.
Obi-Wan reached for his apprentice's new metal hand as he lay bedridden in the recovery wing. The healers had informed Obi-Wan that Anakin's body had accepted the new prosthetic and the healing process was going smoothly, but Anakin was pumped full of painkillers that doubled as sedatives - likely for the wellbeing of those around him as well as his own.
Obi-Wan sighed and gazed down at his Padawan, trying to keep the affection and relief from spilling out of him into their bond.
"How come I can't feel my arm?" Anakin's eyes trailed along Obi-Wan's arm to where their hands were joined, then widened in a way that would have been comical under any other circumstance. "'I'm part droid now?"
Obi-Wan waited while Anakin seemed to be processing this new information, preparing to shield them both from the rest of the planet should Anakin's emotions explode in the Force. However, the moment never came.
"Cool! Wait'll we meet Dooku again! I'll kick his ass for sure this time!"
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan knew he should have been horrified that, rather than learning a valuable lesson about his own rashness, his padawan was instead plotting revenge in a most un-Jedi-like way. But against all odds, his padawan was alive and well and didn't seem to be remotely bothered by the mechanical prosthetic. It was more than Obi-Wan had dared hope for, and he couldn't find it in himself to chastise the boy.
Anakin grinned somewhat ruefully, then seemed to be contemplating something as he scrunched up his nose. "Why can't I move it?"
"Patience," Obi-wan said, releasing his grasp on the mechno-arm and reaching for Anakin's organic hand instead. "The healers still have to calibrate it and help your brain integrate it with the rest of your body."
"Oh," Anakin said, by some miracle seeming to accept this as an answer. Must be the sedatives, Obi-Wan mused.
"So we're back at the Temple now? Will you get Julep for me?"
Of course Anakin would want to see his cat. Forget narrowly escaping death and needing to adjust to a new limb - he missed his tooka and of course that would be Anakin's priority. With a shake of his head that was equal parts affection and exasperation, Obi-Wan told Anakin that they were still on Naboo, and that he didn't think tookas were allowed in hospitals in the first place.
"Can't you say she's a therapy tooka?"
"And just what would you need a therapy animal for?"
"She's warm and these blankets suck." Anakin paused and looked around the room, as if checking to make sure they were alone. "And she feels warm in the Force. I know it sounds weird, but her Force signature is...strange. She feels like a ball of healing energy instead of a regular lifeform, and somehow she always seems to know when I need her."
"Anakin, you're delirious."
Obi-Wan sighed and untangled his hand from Anakin's, reaching out to tuck his apprentice's braid behind his ear. "Rest, Padawan." A mild sleep compulsion accompanied the verbal command. "When you wake up, I'll see if I can get you cleared to come back home."
As Obi-Wan made his way out of the med center, a long-ago conversation with Qui-Gon surfaced in his mind.
Another one of your pathetic life forms, Master?
Actually, I believe I'm hers.
It was nothing new or surprising for pet owners to bond deeply with their animal companions, and the therapeutic benefits of keeping a pet were well documented. Obi-Wan had simply assumed Anakin asking for Julep was no different than any non-Jedi pet owner seeking contact with their pet. Jedi weren't supposed to have pets, but Anakin did a lot of things Jedi weren't supposed to do. So had Qui-Gon for that matter. But that comment…
When Obi-Wan returned to the temple on Coruscant and opened the door to his quarters, he was nonplussed to find Julep sitting patiently on the other side, gazing expectantly up at him.
She mewed her name for him, then immediately meow-squeaked Anakin's. Her meaning couldn't have been clearer.
Obi-Wan closed the door and scooped Julep up, collapsing into the couch and setting her down next to him. She continued to watch him expectantly, seeming to wait for an answer.
"Anakin's on Naboo recovering from an injury," he told her, lightly scratching one of her stripes where the pale yellow fur blended with green. "He'll be alright, but he needs to stay there a little longer."
Julep seemed to contemplate this, and then, as if signaling her agreement, she wandered into Obi-Wan's lap, curled up in a ball, and began loudly purring.
"You understand everything you hear, don't you?" he asked absently, scratching under her chin. She tilted her head back, regarding Obi-Wan through half-lidded eyes, and continued to purr. "Leave it to my Master to bequeath me a sentient tooka."
"C'mere, Julep. You need to meet somebody."
The cat cocked her head curiously, then followed Anakin out the door of his and Obi-Wan's shared quarters and into to the adjacent apartment.
The main room was largely unfurnished, though it was beginning to show signs of life. Although Anakin had quickly warmed to the idea of having a padawan, he was thoroughly opposed to anything that would separate him from Obi-Wan. They were a team, and while he had nothing against the team gaining a member, he refused to see it split up.
He had therefore insisted on claiming the vacant quarters directly next to Obi-Wan's as his and Ahsoka's new residence.
Now, the cat followed Anakin into his and his padawan's new quarters. "Here's the window," Anakin told Julep. "You can climb the same tree to get in and out that you use for the other room. I'll keep the window open enough for you to squeeze through."
Julep looked at him. "I'll tell Obi-Wan to make sure he keeps his window open too. I know you like to check on him."
Seemingly satisfied, Julep wandered toward one of the bedrooms where the door was slightly opened. Moments later, a delighted shriek echoed from the room. "Awww, kitty! Master, look, there's a tooka in here!"
Anakin stepped into the room to find his padawan crouched down, grinning widely and stroking the green and yellow cat as she brushed against Ahsoka's legs.
"That's Julep," Anakin said. "I was hoping you two would get to meet each other."
"Wait. She's yours?!" Ahsoka's eyes went wide.
Anakin didn't bother trying to hide his smirk. "Technically, Jedi aren't supposed to have pets or get attached. But we're encouraged to make connections with other living beings as guided by the will of the Living Force."
"So she's your tooka. Got it." Ahsoka lifted Julep into her arms, and the cat nuzzled the top of her head against one of Ahsoka's lekku. "I've seen her before, actually," Ahsoka said, cradling Julep to her chest and gently stroking her back. "She hangs around the gardens sometimes and plays with the younglings in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. I thought tookas hated water, but she jumps right in and swims!"
Ahsoka sat down on the bed and continued to hold the cat. "She seems to know when one of the younglings is scared or upset, and she'll go sit on their lap until they feel better."
"So it's not just me! I knew it!"
"I've sworn up and down to Obi-Wan there's something special about that tooka. She always knows when one of us needs her company. She stayed by my side for a week after I lost my arm. She'd only leave to go meow at Obi-Wan when he was in the other room brooding….excuse me, meditating," Anakin rolled his eyes, "and trying to blame himself for it. The way she was meowing at him...it sounded like she was scolding him. She wouldn't let up until he came back into the sitting room and snapped out of it."
Ahsoka's lips twitched into a smile as she rested her chin lightly atop Julep's head. "Definitely not just you. I think the temple has a guardian tooka."
A routine diplomacy mission had brought Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan on a journey to Lothal. They were halfway there when an unexpected, fourth member of the crew casually sauntered into the small ship's sleeping quarters, her green and yellow striped tail swishing happily behind her.
All three Jedi burst out laughing at the sight.
"And who approved you for this mission, little one?" Obi-Wan asked, voice thick with amusement as he patted the space on the couch between himself and Anakin, who'd been casually tinkering with a miniature mouse droid.
Julep gave a cheerful meow and hopped up on the couch, settling herself between the two humans.
From across the room where she was perched on the side of the bed, Ahsoka carefully set her cup of caf on the floor next to her feet, raised her hand, and summoned a small item from the desk by the door.
A pinpoint of red light suddenly appeared on Anakin's lap, followed immediately by an enthusiastically pouncing tooka.
"Snips! Hey!!" Anakin yelped, leaping to his feet just in time to dodge another incoming attack while frantically scrambling to keep the newly repaired mouse droid from crashing to the floor.
Ahsoka doubled over in laughter, this time using the laser pen to send Julep leaping toward Obi-Wan. The Jedi Master calmly responded by raising one hand and halting the tooka mid-jump. Julep meowed questioningly as she was slowly lowered to the ground. Ahsoka continued the fit of hysterical giggles.
"Oh, so that's how we're playing it?" Anakin asked, a predatory grin on his face as he quickly tweaked a few wires in the mouse droid, then set it on the ground. It immediately darted across the floor to where Ahsoka was sitting, Julep delightedly chasing after it and careening head-first into the cup of caf, spilling it everywhere as the droid raced under the bed.
Julep rewarded Ahsoka and the destroyed beverage with an indignant meow before slinking under the bed to chase down the droid.
"Hey!! Master, no fair!!" Ahsoka shrieked, leaping up to keep the rapidly-spreading puddle of caf from soaking into her shoes.
"Well, at least we know we won't have to worry about rodents on the ship," Obi-Wan mused, watching Anakin's victorious grin as Ahsoka scrambled to clean up the mess. "We really should get to bed soon," he continued. "As entertaining as these antics are, we'll need to be well-rested for tomorrow."
The first day of the Lothal mission went reasonably well, and after a rather uneventful series of meetings, the trio headed back to the ship for the night. When they arrived, however, they were greeted by an unexpected sight - Julep furiously hissing at a stray loth-cat that had wandered into the ship.
"It's kind of odd for Julep to be territorial," Anakin remarked, perplexed at the unusual display of aggression from the normally good-natured tooka.
When Obi-Wan pointed out there was a loth-rat in the corner, and Julep was probably defending her meal, Ahsoka slowly shook her head, looking utterly confused. "Master Obi-Wan...I think Julep's protecting the loth-rat."
The intruding stray feline was promptly subdued by Obi-Wan, who scooped it up and gently deposited it outside the ship. Upon his return, Julep eyed him carefully as if to confirm the other cat's absence, then turned to the loth-rat and nudged it with her nose.
The loth-rat gratefully squeaked, and with an encouraging chirrup from Julep, a litter of tiny loth-rats emerged from a hole in the wall. Julep puffed out her chest like she was showing off a herd of her own kittens.
Ahsoka burst out laughing. "Um, Masters? I think we have a defective tooka."
Obi-Wan, finding himself once again astounded and amused by Julep's peculiar behavior, simply asked her to please keep the loth-rats out of the food.
Julep didn't respond.
"Do your friends need food?" Ahsoka asked instead. This time, Julep meowed an unmistakable affirmative.
Obi-Wan shook his head in disbelief, Ahsoka disappearing for a moment to return with small piece of bantha cheese. When she placed it on the floor as an offering, Julep protectively curled her body around the loth-rat family as they ate, the mother rodent proceeding to nibble the cheese while her younglings nursed from her chest.
The next day, the Lothal mission wrapped up without a hitch, and all three Jedi were happy to be heading back home. Obi-Wan was always eager to return to the peacefulness of temple life after any type of excursion, while Anakin and his padawan simply found diplomatic missions to be insufferably dull and happily welcomed their swift end.
Sitting in the pilot's chair, Anakin punched in the hyperspace coordinates for Coruscant, muttering something under his breath about good riddance to boring planets full of boring people.
"Perhaps if you took the time to learn a few basic social skills, you wouldn't find diplomacy quite so boring," Obi-Wan chided, though his voice was filled with warm amusement rather than any true anger.
"Um, Masters?" Ahsoka called as she walked into the cockpit. "I think we have another stowaway."
Trotting behind Ahsoka was not one, but two felines - Julep, and a loth-cat that had apparently boarded their ship at some point before they took off.
"Wait, is that the same loth-cat Julep was growling at yesterday?" Anakin asked.
"It appears to be," Obi-Wan said, noting the familiar markings and precise shade of russet-brown coloring its fur. "It also appears they've worked out their differences."
Julep nudged the brown cat with her nose, seemingly encouraging it to move toward the trio of sentients. The loth-cat took a timid step forward, then slowly walked up to Ahsoka and offered a questioning meow?
"I guess I'm the least intimidating of the three of us," Ahsoka laughed, stooping down to pick up the newcomer. The loth-cat looked uneasy at first, but seemed to quickly understand that being picked up and held resulted in free back scratches.
Julep meowed at the loth-cat in a way that sounded oddly like "I told you so," and then walked over to Obi-Wan and swished her tail expectantly.
Obi-Wan obligingly patted his lap, and Julep immediately jumped up, curling herself into a ball as the Jedi master stroked her back.
Anakin continued to pilot the ship, quirking an amused brow at the loud chorus of purrs coming from both directions. "So does the stowaway cat get to come back to Coruscant with us?"
"I don't see why not," Obi-Wan shrugged. "It doesn't appear to be aggressive or diseased, and since loth-cats are just region-specific color variations of the common tooka, it won't be considered an invasive species."
"We should put him in the garden," Ahsoka said, continuing to stroke the creature in her arms. "The younglings love Julep, and I bet they'd be happy to have another tooka to play with."
Upon their return to Coruscant, the loth-cat was indeed unleashed upon the temple gardens, where, just as predicted, it was showered with adoring attention from the younglings.
A few weeks later, Obi-Wan found himself being approached by an elderly Rodian crechemaster, asking if he was the one who'd decided it would be a good idea to turn a loth-cat loose in the gardens. Bracing himself for a thorough telling-off from the old reptilian Master, Obi-Wan was surprised to instead find a grateful hand on his shoulder when he nodded an affirmative.
"One of the younglings, Pra'gure - I'm sure you've heard of him by reputation if nothing else," the crechemaster began.
Obi-Wan had indeed. The young Twi'lek had built quite a name for himself, always squabbling with someone or other, landing himself and his agemates in the Halls of Healing for garden scuffles or sparring matches gone awry.
"He's bonded with that loth-cat," the Rodian said. "He's so gentle and patient with it - he's teaching it tricks, and it follows him everywhere. It's even prevented a few altercations, as strange as it seems. Pra'gure and some of the other younglings were getting ready to dust it up just this morning, and that cat stepped right in the middle of them. It gave a warning growl to the other children, but never made a move to attack. Pra'gure immediately started ignoring the other younglings as soon as he saw his feline companion was upset, and he focused all his attention on the loth-cat, trying to calm it down. Not only did he successfully brush off the provocation from his agemates, he connected with another being flawlessly through the Force. I've seen a real change in him since that cat's been around."
Pleasantly surprised by the turn the conversation had taken, Obi-Wan smiled his approval. "I'm glad to hear it," he said, and with a grateful nod from the elderly crechemaster, Obi-Wan went on his way, unable to shake the feeling that the whole thing was more than just a mere coincidence.
Upon returning to his quarters, Obi-Wan found Julep curled on the couch, wide awake and watching him as he took a seat next to her.
"You brought that loth-cat home for Pra'gure, didn't you?" he found himself asking, feeling somewhere between incredulous and impressed. "You knew he needed a friend, so you brought him one."
Julep meowed in an odd sort of way that Obi-Wan could swear was tinged with pride, then contentedly rubbed her face against his hand, clearly demanding pets. Obi-Wan, of course, obliged.
More missions. More time away from home. More travels to more planets - some peaceful, many decidedly less so.
Obi-Wan understood it was perfectly natural to seek comfort in your fellow beings during war time, but as the token Council member in the group and a person Anakin and Ahsoka both looked to for guidance, permitting high levels of attachment was downright remiss.
Or so his inner Jedi voice told him, even if the part of him that was attuned to the higher calling of the Living Force strongly disagreed.
He took in the sight in front of him and...well...attachment was putting it lightly. This was downright domestic. Anakin was sprawled diagonally on the couch of their small ship, dozing lightly with his head against the armrest. The impressionable padawan entrusted to his care, whom he was supposed to be instructing in the ways of the Jedi, was tucked tightly and protectively under his flesh arm. Julep, the insistent little stowaway, lay on Ahsoka's stomach, curled into a loudly purring ball, with Anakin's metal fingers woven through her soft green fur.
As Obi-Wan took a step closer, a mint-colored ear twitched, and Julep raised her head, staring pointedly at Obi-Wan. The Jedi Master tried to reason to himself that a tooka couldn't possibly have divined his intentions, and it certainly couldn't take him to task for them, but as he got closer, Julep let out a soft "mrrrrow?" from the back of her throat. It was a question, and it was a command, but it was absolutely not a request.
The question, of course, was a rhetorical one, demanding to know just what in the name of the Force Obi-Wan thought he was doing.
The command was for him to re-think this course of action unless he wanted to fight an extremely cranky tooka, with the implied addendum that if he was still self-delusional enough to think she was just a tooka, he probably needed to fuck off and go meditate on how a Jedi Master could possibly be so kriffing blind to the ways of the Living Force.
Obi-Wan gave a resigned sigh and held up his hands in surrender. He could swear he felt Julep nod her approval in the Force as she closed her eyes and laid her head back down. He knew he was being invited to share the couch with the rest of the family (there was no point in kidding himself into thinking it was merely a training lineage at this point) - but only if he intended to behave himself and leave the pesky Jedi ideology in the Council Chamber where it belonged.
Who am I kidding, Obi-Wan mused. That blasted tooka knows things.
Which, of course, she did.
She knew Obi-Wan, and she knew Obi-Wan's padawan and grand-padawan, and she always knew exactly what they needed - whether it was to be lovingly comforted, angrily meowed at, or something else entirely.
And when Obi-Wan quietly took a seat next to her and gently stroked her back, softly asking what are you? in a tone full of curious awe, she merely nuzzled his hand with her head.
"Obi-Wan's in hyperspace for another full day at least," Anakin told his increasingly distressed padawan, trying to keep his own fear out of his voice. "There's no way to get ahold of him."
Terrified blue eyes started back. "We can't take her to the Halls of Healing! They won't heal a stray animal, and if we tell them she's ours, they still won't heal her and we'll get a stupid lecture on attachment while she sits there dying!"
Anakin said nothing, eyeing the severely injured tooka cradled in his padawan's arms, the claws and teeth of a nexu - likely some sleemo's escaped exotic pet - having nearly ripped her to shreds.
"I'm right, aren't I! They'd just tell us to let her die and say we needed to accept it as the will of the Force or some bantha shit like that!"
Fire blazed in Anakin's veins and sarcasm dripped from his voice. "I think you're ready for knighthood, Snips. You sound just like the Council."
Julep let out a distressed meow that came out as something between a whimper and a squeak.
"Oh no," Ahsoka gasped, resting her hand against Julep's crimson-stained fur. "Master…" She took a deep that sounded more like a half-choked sob. "We both need to calm down. She can feel us in the Force, you know she can! She knows we're upset and she's trying to protect us, but she doesn't have the energy to do it."
Anakin reached his mind toward the tooka's fading Force signature to try and lend her some of his strength, and was met with a shocking level of awareness he'd never experienced from a non-sentient. Experimentally, he tried brushing his mind against Julep's and felt a small yet very deliberate pulse of love and concern brush back. With a startled yelp, he quickly withdrew his presence.
Was this just a matter of Julep being bonded to four different Jedi in the same lineage and therefore being strongly linked to all of them by default? Was she, simply by virtue of being a living creature who regularly inhabited their shared space, serving as a conduit for the Force bonds that had linked Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan to Anakin to Ahsoka over the years, and merely reflecting their own concern back to them?
It felt like so much more than that though. Julep looked up at Anakin, held his gaze, and placed one of her paws on his arm in a manner that could only be described as protective. This was no accident, no random quirk of the Force, and the thought of letting this precious creature die was more than Anakin could stand.
He looked up at Ahsoka, who he could tell was fighting back tears. "Has Barriss taught you any Force healing? I know you two spend a lot of time together. I've never studied the techniques myself, but…."
Ahsoka's eyes lit up. "Yes! I mean, I'm not very focused yet, it takes a lot more energy than you might think. You can completely drain yourself if you don't know what you're doing. But I understand the basic theories at least."
"Okay," Anakin said, forcing his thoughts to come together into something remotely coherent. "I'm going to go get the first aid kit out of the fresher. It's got bacta and bandages in it. When I get back, I'm going to open our bond enough for you to draw on my Force energy. Use as much as you need. We'll get her stabilized and clean her up. Then we comm Kix and hope he can keep a secret."
As it turned out, Kix could very much keep a secret. He could also keep a healing tooka away from prying eyes, and he was utterly thrilled for the rare opportunity to take care of a willing patient for once.
Rex had managed to sneak into the medbay, but he'd happily taken an oath of secrecy in exchange for a chance to pet Julep. Despite being born and bred for war, the clones were every bit as loving and gentle as they were valiant and fierce.
Ahsoka nearly wept with relief when Kix assured them the little creature would be just fine, and that no one other than Obi-Wan would find out what had happened. Anakin wasn't far behind, and he didn't have the energy left to try and hide the torrent of emotions rushing through him.
"Kix, I owe you one," he said, moving to pat the clone medic on the back, but stopping short when he realized his hands were still coated in blood that Kix probably wouldn't want all over his armor.
"I'm gonna remind you of that the next time you and General Kenobi are giving me hell," Kix replied. "You might want to go wash that blood off before someone walks in and thinks you hurt yourself in a speeder race again."
"Hey!" Anakin yelped indignantly. "That was just one time!"
Kix and Ahsoka gave him matching incredulous stares.
"Okay, one time in the past month. But it wasn't my fault! And I still won!"
"And to think the Council actually lets this guy have a padawan," Ahsoka stage-whispered to Kix.
As the war raged on, the three Jedi returned from more and more missions truly exhausted in every conceivable sense of the word. And without fail, Julep was always there to greet them upon their return to the temple, content to curl up in their laps and demand attention in exchange for soothing purrs.
The loyal tooka hadn't made any more attempts to stow away on their ship, and though all three of them were glad of it from a logistical standpoint (war zones were no place for a tooka, and seeing Julep gravely injured once was more than enough), they found themselves missing her on their more emotionally taxing missions.
The hellish series of events on the bizarre planet Mortis left all of them particularly longing for her calming presence, and all the way back to Coruscant, Ahsoka couldn't push the feeling from the back of her mind that something terrible had happened to her while they were away.
She chalked it up to aftershocks of the entire nightmarish ordeal, not wanting to bother Anakin or Obi-Wan with what was surely unfounded paranoia, but all three of them were startled when, upon returning to their rooms at the temple, Julep was nowhere to be found.
As days passed, and then weeks, they all feared the worst - especially since none of the younglings reported seeing her in the gardens or the Room of a Thousand Fountains. Anakin and Ahsoka both grew more agitated than usual, and though Obi-Wan tried to pretend he wasn't concerned, the stoic Jedi Master was unable to fool the two people who knew him best.
Then one day Ahsoka heard a spunky meow from the tree outside her window, and in trotted Julep, happily brushing against Ahsoka's legs like nothing had happened at all. Ahsoka collapsed to her knees and scooped the little tooka into a fierce hug. "Where have you been?" she gently scolded, burying her face in the soft green fur and blinking back the dampness that threatened to fill her eyes. "You've had us all so worried!"
Then suddenly the door burst open as Anakin and Obi-Wan came storming in, sabers blazing at the ready.
"Ahsoka! What's wrong?!" Anakin demanded, staring at his padawan crouched on the floor. "We felt an explosion of emotion in the Force, is something...JULEP!"
The two Jedi immediately powered down their sabers, Anakin making a mad dash toward Julep and Ahsoka, Obi-Wan breathing an audible sigh of relief as a brilliant smile lit his face.
"I just looked up at the window and there she was," Ahsoka said, unabashed joy coursing through her Force presence. "I don't know where she's been, but she doesn't seem hurt."
The tooka pressed her body against Anakin, crawling into his lap as soon as he sat down on the floor.
"Perhaps she's been having some adventures of her own," Obi-Wan mused, walking over to where the rest of them sat and leaning down to stroke Julep's soft fur.
As anyone who's fought in wars will tell you, adventures aren't always a good thing.
As Anakin Skywalker will tell you, this especially holds true when it comes to adventures in stupidity, adventures in self-righteous bantha shit, and adventures in Jedi Council schuttas playing politics with his padawan's life.
Furiously storming into his quarters, Anakin slammed the door behind him, delivering a solid kick to the wooden frame for good measure. At Julep's concerned expression, Anakin balled his hands into fists. "It's Ahsoka," he growled.
Julep chirrup-meowed Ahsoka's name in a questioning tone.
"The Council thinks she bombed the temple! They're trying to hand her over to a military court seeking the death penalty."
Julep's ears immediately flattened against her skull, and in a startlingly uncharacteristic display, she growled low in her throat, baring her pointed teeth. A strange wave of energy rippled over the arch of her back, crackling as it left strands of her fur standing on end.
"Julep, what…" Momentarily startled out of his rage, Anakin reached for her in the Force and found his mind blocked by some type of unfamiliar, bizarrely complex shield. Then, in the blink of an eye, both the energy and the shield vanished. The fur on Julep's back was still slightly bristled, her tail twitching in agitation, but the blatant signs of aggression were gone.
Anakin swiftly picked the cat up and set her down next to him on the couch, using his index finger to gently lift her head to meet his eyes. With a cautious glance around the room, he lowered his voice. "Alright, Julep. I don't know what you really are, and as soon as this is over, we can go back to playing stray tooka and clueless adoptive Jedi. But right now, I need your help, and so does Ahsoka."
After a moment's pause, Julep met Anakin's gaze, and with gentle understanding in her eyes, she slowly blinked her assent.
"Thank you," Anakin breathed, running his hand gratefully down her back. "Ahsoka's on the run, by herself, probably still in the lower levels of the city. I've got to find evidence to prove she's innocent, since the Council is too high and mighty to waste their time actually doing their kriffing jobs. While I'm doing that, I need you to find her and watch out for her. Distract or scare off anybody who tries to mess with her. Help her directly if you can, but don't let her know it's you."
Julep twitched an ear and cocked her head. "She's probably scared out of her mind right now and doesn't know who to trust," Anakin explained. "The last thing we'd want is for her to see you and worry you're being controlled by someone at the temple trying to track her down on the sly and use you as bait."
Julep's ears twitched again in a way that reminded Anakin of Artoo flashing his lights while he processed information. Then the strange energy from earlier returned, though this time it was different - more peaceful and deliberate than crackling with uncontrolled anger. It shimmered through Julep's fur, each strand a tiny lightning rod, and once it had dissipated, a pink and purple alley tooka sat in Julep's stead. Its body was bonier, its fur less glossy and soft. But its eyes were wise and familiar - dark violet rather than vibrant jade, but very much Julep's.
The cat gave a questioning meow.
Anakin stared in silent awe, then nodded his approval with a stunned smile. "Don't forget to shield. Your Force signature feels...warm, for lack of a better word, to anyone who bothers to check."
Julep's shields immediately snapped into place.
"Thank you," Anakin breathed, lifting the familiar-but-strange feline into his arms and cradling her gratefully against his chest. "Ahsoka loves you, you know. I do too. Hell, so does Obi-Wan, even if he's too emotionally stunted to show it. I don't know what kind of tooka shapeshifts and understands Basic and knows how to shield itself in the Force, but whatever kind of creature you are, you're part of our lineage and you'll always have a place here."
A sensation of warmth washed over Anakin as Julep began to loudly purr. He held her snug against his chest, resting his cheek against her soft purple head until she began lightly squirming to be released. Stroking her back one last time, Anakin set her gently on the couch.
"Be careful out there, Julep. Let's bring her home safe."
With a dutiful meow, Julep bounded through the open window, leaped into the nearby tree, and disappeared from sight.
As the war dragged on, Julep was seen less at the temple, but plenty of people who hung around Coruscant's lower levels would tell stories of an odd Togruta girl and the green and yellow tooka that constantly followed her around, and how the girl would talk to it as if it could understand every word she said.
The tooka still showed up regularly at the temple, of course, climbing trees and sneaking into the quarters of certain Jedi, until the day came when there was no more temple to sneak into, and the Jedi she'd come to visit were gone.
On the evening of Order 66, as the battle raged and the temple fell, a forlorn tooka sat silhouetted against a backdrop of blasterfire and flames. Her mournful cry was lost amidst the cacophony of explosions and shouts until she quietly stole away into the night, leaving her once-sanctuary behind her forever.
Tookas, however, are exceptionally loving creatures, and they don't give up on their adopted sentients so easily.
A few years later on Alderaan, Princess Leia Organa began to spend an unusual amount of time in the palace gardens. Bail assumed his daughter had simply inherited her biological mother's love of nature, so he encouraged the child to play outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. The green and yellow tooka who would crawl into Leia's lap and purr happily for hours on end while listening to the young princess read was no cause for suspicion or alarm. After all, the tooka seemed quite tame, and showing kindness to stray animals was a perfectly fitting thing for an Alderaanian princess to do.
The tooka would come and go, sometimes there for weeks on end, other times gone for months or more, but it would always show back up, and Leia would always welcome it back.
Meanwhile on Tatooine, a child named Luke Skywalker would occasionally find a green and yellow tooka waiting for him outside the Lars homestead. Luke was puzzled at first, since tookas didn't live on Tatooine, but he also knew tookas were a common sight on space vessels, as they were known to keep vermin at bay. He assumed this one had probably stowed away on an incoming transport, unwittingly stranded itself on the planet, and gotten itself lost looking for water or food.
Being the kind-hearted child he was, he snuck it some water and table scraps, then took the lost creature to Anchorhead and dropped it off, thinking it could likely find another transport to stow away on.
The next day, however, the tooka showed back up in the exact same place. This time, Luke shared his bantha milk with it, and it happily trotted after him while he did his chores. He spoke to it while he worked, babbling his dreams of starships and heroics, of wishing he knew what his parents had been like, and the little creature sat and listened patiently.
The tooka would come and go, sometimes there for weeks on end, other times gone for months or more, but it would always show back up, and Luke would always welcome it back.
Traveling through the stars was an easy task for a tooka, since no ship's captain would turn away a spry, healthy cat. After all, tookas caught mice (even if this one simply asked them nicely to stay hidden while she brought them food), and it was bad luck to refuse the companionship of a tooka in the first place. Everyone knew that.
And if this particular tooka seemed to bring a different sort of luck to some of the ships she boarded - specifically the slave freighters that were an all too common fixture in the Mos Eisley spaceport - nobody put two and two together.
After all, a lot of the ships smuggling illegal cargo of that magnitude simply weren't kept in the best repair. And when you're an innocent looking ball of fluff who's been well-loved by someone who was both a former slave and a gifted mechanic, you learn a few things - like who the bad guys really are, and which wires you need to chew through on a ship to knock the hyperdrive offline and trigger an emergency distress beacon.
And when you're a tooka who's so much more than just a tooka, you know a few tricks of your own - like how to hide a follow me Force suggestion in a pathetic sounding meow, and how to lead emergency distress-signal responders straight to a hidden cargo hold.
The old hermit Ben, who lived in the Jundland Wastes of Tatooine, would also receive visits from this tooka, but in his sadness he pushed her away. She was a living ghost to him, a reminder of all he'd loved and lost, and though she wanted to stay and love him still, it was not the purpose of a tooka to bring pain.
She rubbed her face against his hand one last time, and on her way out the open window, when Ben asked her to please keep an eye on Luke and Leia, she turned and cocked her head as if to say, I already am.
Many years later on Malachor, Ahsoka Tano battled a ghost of her own.
Her former master swung his crimson saber in a deadly arc, yet she refused to leave his side. Not this time.
She dodged and blocked, but refused to strike back, even as she felt the energy leave her body as Anakin - he had to still be in there somewhere - slowly wore her down.
It was only a matter of time before he gained the upper hand, prying both her sabers from her grasp. "Anakin, PLEASE! Come back to me," she cried desperately, reaching out in the Force, still refusing to attack, trying only to connect with the elusive spark of light she knew had to be somewhere inside the back-suited, amber-eyed Sith Lord - the man with the broken mask and the painfully familiar voice.
His blood-red saber rose again, and though Ahsoka was prepared to accept her fate - it serves me right for abandoning him and leaving him to be turned into this monster, she told herself - a tiny convor suddenly swooped out of seemingly nowhere.
Its mint-green and daffodil-yellow wings beat furiously as it tore through the air, letting out what could only be described as a battle screech. As peculiar energy engulfed it, it began to grow exponentially in size, rapidly shifting its form into something giant and fierce.
Ahsoka instinctively shielded her eyes, and when she opened them again, an enormous griffon with a green and yellow body sat on the ground before her, pinning her former master down with its enormous front paws. It beat its wings at her and loudly cawed.
"I'm not leaving!" she told it furiously, pulling herself to her feet.
The magnificent creature seemed to hesitate for a moment, then reached a tendril of the Force toward her forehead. The familiarness of the energy shocked her to her core, and when she looked at the griffin not with her eyes, but with her Force sight, she saw a familiar striped tooka with wise jade eyes staring back.
"You must go now!" the cat-apparition told her. "I cannot hold him unconscious for long. He will soon overpower me, just as he did when you and your companions encountered me and my brother on our homeworld, and he will destroy you when he does."
Dizziness swirled in Ahsoka's head. She was half convinced she was already dead, and this was some sort of extremely bizarre afterlife. "…Julep?" she asked after a moment of stunned disbelief. And then another realization slammed into her. The griffon. Its homeworld. "You're the Daughter. You're from Mortis."
The cat-apparition shifted form again, this time taking the shape of an ethereally glowing young woman with long, mint-colored hair and a daffodil yellow dress.
Ahsoka continued to stare in disbelief, then defiantly squared her shoulders. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what the kriff is going on here! You mean to tell me you're a magical goddess from a magical Force planet who's got limitless power at her fingertips, and you spent your time hanging around the Jedi temple as a cat? Why?"
The Daughter smiled gently. "Because contrary to certain beliefs, beings of the Light are not meant to live without love. Not my kind, nor yours. I sought only companionship, to share the Force's gifts of connection and compassion with beings who were brave enough to give and receive them openly, without guilt or regret. But it was not my place or desire to intrude upon your destinies or your chosen paths by presenting myself as a Goddess to be worshipped and obeyed - which is how I surely would have been received had I appeared in my true form."
"So you turned yourself into a stray tooka and weaseled your way into the first heart you could find," Ahsoka reasoned. "You wanted to experience love, and you couldn't do it on Mortis." This was, oddly enough, starting to make a bit of sense, but it was so much to take in. Still, Ahsoka continued to fit the pieces together. "You were the only being of the Light the planet had, but you couldn't fully experience the side of the Force you were supposed to represent. There was no one there to love you back."
The Daughter nodded. "I was drawn to Qui-Gon Jinn's unique affinity for the living Force, and his tendency to adopt...what was that phrase? Ah, yes. Pathetic life forms."
"Like stray tookas," Ahsoka said numbly. "Commonplace enough not to garner suspicion, but fluffy and adorable enough to be a total love magnet."
She nodded again, a small smile playing at her lips. "And the types of sentients who would open their hearts to a lonely creature in need of love were precisely the types I was seeking. You were the most wonderful companions I could have possibly wished for, and I hope only that I was able to adequately return the devotion you showed me. Through all of you, I was able to experience the most pure form of the Light, and I can never repay that debt."
"I think you had our entire lineage wrapped around your tail," Ahsoka confessed, shaking her head. "So that time when Anakin and I found you hurt and we took you to Kix…"
"I was gravely injured. Fully transforming into a mortal being leaves me with all the frailties of a mortal body until I transform back. Creating a Force-based illusion of a tooka to disguise myself may have worked to fool someone Force-blind, but any Jedi would have seen through it instantaneously. I had to truly become the creature I wished to be, or the Force-sight of your kind would have given me away. Shapeshifting requires an immense amount of power, and with my injuries as severe as they were, I lacked the ability to transform. You, Anakin, and your medic Kix truly saved my life. Had I died, I would have eventually been reborn in some form or fashion, as my kind always is - but likely not before irreparable unbalance was unleashed upon the galaxy by my brother."
Ahsoka paused for a moment, trying to force her mind to take all this in, when she felt a tremor in the Force around her.
"You must go now!" the Daughter said, her voice an urgent plea.
"Promise me you won't hurt him!" Ahsoka demanded. "Anakin's still in there somewhere, and he loves you. You know he does."
"You have my word," she said quickly. "And he loves you as well. I gave him my word long ago that I would protect you - and moments ago, you swore to him that you wouldn't leave him again. I shall therefore fulfill my promise to him and preserve your life as well, because I know you would stay here and die before you'd break your promise and leave of your own volition. Such is the nature of your lineage - and it is a rare gift you have given the Force by following its true callings, rather than taking the cowardly path while hiding behind code and creed."
Suddenly, Ahsoka found herself unsteady on her feet and overcome with fatigue. "I will transport you to the upper level of the temple, and no harm will come to Anakin by my hand," the Daughter's gentle voice echoed in her montrals as vertigo overtook her senses. "Walk in the light, Ahsoka Tano. Know that you are loved, and that your time in this realm is not yet finished."
Ahsoka collapsed to her knees and felt a warm swirl of energy surround her body. "I don't believe it," she thought as the world blacked out around her. "I've actually teased a demigod with a laser pen."
Years later, when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon existed only in the realm of the Force, their bodies long dead but their spirits alive and bright as ever, a third figure suddenly appeared before them.
She was tall and near-human, with mint colored hair, wise jade eyes, and a daffodil yellow dress flowing loose around her legs. "Both of you. Come quickly. There's no time."
Obi-Wan immediately narrowed his eyes. "You!" he snarled. "You're one of the beings from that dreadful planet Mortis. Whatever twisted game you wish to play, I will have absolutely nothing to…"
He stopped mid-sentence, surprised into silence by Qui-Gon's rumbling laugh. "Don't tell me, my dear padawan, after all I've taught you in the ways of the living Force, you don't recognize Julep in her true form."
Obi-Wan stared at his old master with slack-jawed disbelief, and Qui-Gon met his gaze evenly, warmth and a hint of amusement in his eyes. Then, as Qui-Gon always insisted he do, Obi-Wan reached out with his feelings - and the Force signature that blazed in front of him was unmistakable. It was magnitudes more powerful than it had ever been when he'd known her as a tooka, but she'd clearly gone to great lengths to disguise herself then, so it would only make sense she'd muted her Force signature those times as well.
"Qui-Gon can explain to you later," she said briskly but not unkindly. "Right now I need you both to listen. Anakin has returned to the Light, but his physical body is damaged beyond repair. I will do for him now what he and Ahsoka did for me when I was in need."
They nearly killed themselves with Force-drain saving your life, is what they did, Obi-Wan thought, remembering how he'd been summoned to the medbay by Kix, and the mixed pride and horror he'd felt at discovering what Anakin and Ahsoka had done in an act of extreme compassion...and attachment.
"You both possess the knowledge to survive death," the Daughter told them, "but not the raw Force energy necessary to grant immortality to a person who has not been trained in the way of the Whills. I will be a conduit for you to pass this knowledge to Anakin, and with his Force presence as powerful as it is, it will take only moments for him to absorb it. But you must anchor his spirit when it leaves his body, long enough for his instincts to take over, or else he will be lost to the netherworld of the Force. Do you understand?"
"Yes. Take us to him," Qui-Gon answered for both of them, Obi-Wan still stunned mute.
As Anakin Skywalker lay in his son's arms and drew his final breath, he was, at long last, ready to let go of this world and accept the oblivion that awaited.
The oblivion, however, never came. Instead, he felt three very familiar Force presences coalesce around him. One, he'd last felt as a child. Another, he'd last felt when he'd struck its owner down himself. The third…
"Julep?" he murmured, his voice his own for the first time in decades though he had no vocal chords with which to speak.
Welcome home, the Force whispered, and he heard a familiar, soft purr in his ear before a blinding white light engulfed him.
Anakin's vision was a hazy blur. The pain was finally gone, though it made no sense that he wasn't gone too. But he was here - wherever here was - seemingly alive, at least in some sense of the word. A warm, furry tooka brushed affectionately against his legs, and blazing brightly beside him in the Force were Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, each grasping one of his hands.
"Master?" he asked, turning his eyes to Obi-Wan, who appeared very much alive and well, though slightly translucent and glowing blue.
"You made it," Obi-Wan murmured, a brilliant grin on his face, his eyes alight with what could only be described as joyous, unabashed love. Anakin felt himself being pulled into his old master's arms, and though it wasn't quite the same sensation as embracing a solid body, it was wonderful and it was enough.
Feeling another ethereal touch on his back, Anakin turned to face Qui-Gon, one hand still clutching Obi-Wan's, terrified the both of them would vanish. "I'm so sorry," he choked out, waves of shame and regret crashing through the essence of his being, drowning out the joy.
"Enough of that," a soothing female voice interrupted, and Anakin felt the brewing maelstrom of darkness inside him being physically removed from his soul, cut with the perfect precision of a surgeon extracting a tumor.
Confused, Anakin looked around for the source of the voice, and was startled to see a brilliant burst of light emanating from the small tooka that had, only moments ago, been brushing against his legs. The light grew in brightness and size, and suddenly standing before him was no tooka, but a beautiful humanoid woman with familiar jade eyes. She glowed daffodil gold in the Force, her mint-green hair flowing loose around her body, her blazing-bright Force signature leaving no doubt at all as to who she actually was.
Anakin blinked in disbelief. "What in the name of the Force…" he muttered. "First I find out I've got two kids. Then I find out death is optional. Now I find out my cat is a goddess?"
The Daughter favored him with a blinding grin that nearly matched the intensity of Obi-Wan's. "The name of the Force is precisely it." At his baffled expression, she continued, "I will explain it to you just as I explained to your former padawan."
The woman took a graceful step forward, reaching a slender hand to gently grasp Anakin's fingers. He couldn't help but be reminded of a time, all those years ago, when he'd extended his hand to Julep in greeting and she'd gently placed her paw in his palm.
"Beings of the Light were not meant to live without love," she began. "Not beings like me, nor beings like you. Your lineage was so kind-hearted, and you were such bright lights in the Living Force, that I felt drawn to you - first to Qui-Gon, then to Obi-Wan, then to you, and to Ahsoka."
Anakin had a million questions on the tip of his tongue, but the Daughter seemed to sense the biggest one before he had a chance to vocalize it. "You're wondering why I didn't simply appear as myself, rather than go through the trouble of disguising myself as a cat," she stated plainly, and Anakin simply nodded. "Because you would have seen me as a deity of the Force to be worshipped and obeyed, not a living being to whom you could freely connect. I didn't desire worship. I desired companionship, true companionship - reciprocal, freely given, and rooted in compassion and love, not in some robotic sense of obligation or duty. So I took the form of the creature whose Force-given purpose is to love and be loved, and to foster love between others."
"Well I daresay it worked," Obi-Wan interjected, his voice clearly shocked but full of warmth and wonder as he placed a hand on Anakin's shoulder, as if he still couldn't believe all of them had been reunited.
"I told you we were hers all along," Qui-Gon added, favoring Obi-Wan with a knowing smile.
"So you did," he replied with a quirk of his lips.
"Speaking of Ahsoka..." Anakin asked, dread suddenly roiling in his stomach as he feared the worst - that she'd already passed into the netherworld of the Force, and he'd never get a chance to tell her how sorry he was and how much he kriffing adored her, for the fierce firebrand she'd been as a padawan, and for the blazing beacon of Light she'd become.
The Daughter smiled and placed a gentle hand on Anakin's arm. "Her time in the physical realm is not yet up, but you have the ability to appear to her if you wish. You are free to teach her any technique of the Whills you desire, though I doubt it will be necessary. Ahsoka has learned many secrets of the Force in her travels, and I gave her a gift of my own when I restored her life on Mortis."
Relief and gratitude washed over Anakin, and the Daughter gazed at him with clear affection in her eyes.
"What about you?" Anakin asked. "Will we still see you?" He'd known for quite some time his green and yellow tooka was far more than just a tooka, but whatever type of being she was, she was still his Julep, and he loved her no matter what form she took. Losing her again so soon after he'd regained his own identity and been reunited with the individuals he treasured most...
"Of course you will," she said simply. "The bonds I formed with you all were very real. Your companionship was a gift from the Force in its own right, and I have no desire dishonor the kindness and compassion you showed me. But my work in the physical realm is not yet complete."
At Anakin's puzzled look, she continued. "Many years ago, someone told me that no matter what type of creature I was, I was part of your lineage, and I'd always have a place there. That is not an invitation or responsibility I take lightly, you know."
Realization dawned on Anakin, and gratitude ignited again inside him. "Luke and Leia?"
The Daughter nodded, affectionate warmth still shining brightly in her eyes. "Both of your children already know me, though they've yet to discover my true nature. They believe me to be a quirky yet highly protective tooka who simply enjoys their company. Which isn't entirely untrue. They'll figure it out when the time is right, just as all of you did. As will Luke's student, whose acquaintance I'll need to make if I'm going to uphold my duty of keeping an eye on your long line of troublemakers," she said, casting a knowing glance at Qui-Gon.
Anakin was dumbfounded. "Luke has a padawan?"
"Not yet," she replied enigmatically. "The future is always in motion, but Luke is not destined to be the last of your lineage, nor the last of the Jedi."
Anakin sucked in a sharp hiss of breath and felt Obi-Wan's hand tighten on his shoulder, pride and contentment flowing through the touch.
"Er...Julep?" Anakin asked, not sure how to properly address her, but she acknowledged him with a raise of her brow. "Will you do me one more favor? Promise me you'll bite and scratch the shit out of my kid if he tries to resurrect the Sith-damned 'no attachments' part of the Code. I can show up and yell at him as a ghost, but you're the one who can clobber him in the real world. And you're the one who's got claws."
Tinkling laughter emanated from the Daughter's lips, and merriment danced in her eyes. "After all the trouble I went through to break you all of that blasphemous restriction, I'm not about to let it rear its head again! Though considering the nature of your son, I doubt he is either."
The truth of the statement struck home, and Anakin launched himself forward, pulling the luminous being in front of him into a tight embrace. "Thank you," he breathed, burying his face in the cascade of mint-green hair draped over her shoulder, just as he'd done countless times with Julep's soft green fur. Her familiar Force signature blazed around him, welcoming and warm, as did Obi-Wan's as he felt his former master reach out to him with his mind, gently re-weaving the Force bond that had been torn asunder on Mustafar all those years ago.
"Go with your friends," the Daughter told him, shifting her form back to that of a bright-eyed tooka, sitting at his feet and affectionately swishing her tail. You have much to catch up on, her voice echoed in his head. We'll meet again soon.
As Julep turned and happily trotted off into the mist of the Force, Anakin turned to face his former Master and the Grandmaster he'd never had a chance to truly know.
Qui-Gon's steady presence burned bright, so very welcoming and strong, and though Anakin feared Obi-Wan would never truly forgive him for all he'd done, he still lowered his shields in an act of faith. The moment he did, their newly established bond blazed to life, filling him with a love so intense it nearly bowled him over with its fervor.
As the fear in Anakin's soul dissipated and he truly opened himself to the universe around him, he felt a tug in the Force from Luke, who he somehow knew was preparing to give him a Jedi funeral despite all he'd done - an act of compassion so perfectly befitting their lineage, even though he felt he didn't deserve it.
"Go to him," Qui-Gon told Anakin. "You too, my padawan," he added, placing a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Your presence will bring him much-needed comfort. I'll still be here when you return."
The two Jedi quickly obeyed, their spirits transversing the galaxy in the blink of an eye. When they appeared before Luke on the forest moon, his Force presence shimmered a grateful welcome, and a sense of rightness and promise engulfed them all.
At long last, Anakin and Obi-Wan were truly at peace. As the flames of the funeral pyre sprung to life, Luke's sense of hope likewise ignited - hope for the galaxy and for the future of the new Jedi Order.
And in the branches of a nearby tree, a green and yellow tooka - who was so much more than just a tooka - sat observing, silently rejoicing, and basking in the special type of warmth that only compassion and attachment can bring.