At least until he heard a voice he’d been secretly dreading hearing again all month ask something, and when he heard what was probably Tayer answering him, he knew he’d come here to see her. What was he doing back already anyway, Anakin wondered sulkily. He’d better not ask him to let go of her unless he had a Healer with him who could say he didn’t have to hold onto her anymore.
He opened his eyes and had just enough time to determine they were on one end of a poorly-lit room that was crowded with the other Initiates before a door opened at the other end, and Tayer led in Master Windu, followed by another Jedi whom Anakin didn’t recognize. She looked mostly human, though her lack of eyebrows was odd, and there was a serenity about her that made him really hope she was a Healer.
He especially thought she was when she was the one who approached the bunk he and Padmé lay on, while Master Windu stood a little bit back. “Initiate Skywalker?” she asked. “I am Master Ostrad. I understand you have a connection with Initiate Naberrie?”
“Yes, I do,” he said, and he said it defiantly, and while glaring out at Master Windu. Meanwhile Master Ostrad had taken Padmé’s other hand and knelt close, her cloak falling on Anakin and feeling much warmer than the blanket had.
After a moment she smiled, and said, “She didn’t go as far as she had to when saving you, Initiate. Give me a little bit of time here, and then she’ll be fine once we get her to the Temple.”
A couple of tears had to come out of him then, and he heard Master Windu sigh, probably in disapproval. But Anakin really didn’t care what Master Windu thought, not now that he knew Padmé was going to live. And Master Ostrad didn’t tell him to move, so he didn’t, though she didn’t ask him to do anything else, either, so he guessed she didn’t need his actual help saving Padmé. Instead he just lay there, listening to her soft murmuring, though on some level he wasn’t sure if that was her actual voice or something he was sensing through the Force, and felt Padmé slowly start to grow warm again.
He was vaguely aware of Master Windu at some point turning away to do other things; he heard him talking with Tayer, and he thought he heard a mention of Mippi at some point. Also half the Initiates wandered out, though the other half continued to sit around and mostly watch Master Ostrad working on Padmé. But eventually Master Windu came to the bunk, looked down at Anakin, and said, “Initiate Skywalker, come with me.” He sounded the way he had when he’d pulled Anakin aside to scold him on Polsing, which confused Anakin, because he was pretty certain he hadn’t done anything wrong this time.
They had a longer walk to be alone this time, because the hallway was crowded with not only Initiates, but also the neighbors, including Mippi and the woman with her. But that meant the room they lived in was empty, so Master Windu led Anakin in there. “What did I do?” he asked when the door was closed behind them.
“It’s not anything you did this time,” said Master Windu. “But I must express my concern, Initiate, about your friendship with Initiate Naberrie.”
“Her name is Padmé!” Anakin was shocked when he heard his own words, but he kept on going: “You’re planning to take her as a Padawan, right?”
“I am currently evaluating her for the purpose,” he said, at least not sounding any more angry. “But I hope, Initiate, that you are aware that even if I do not take her as a Padawan, someone must within the next year, and at that point you must be ready to let her go.”
“I know, she’s told me that already,” he said, not even trying to conceal his impatience. Somehow he didn’t really like it, this particular Master lecturing him about this.
“I am glad to hear that,” he said, which was just more annoying, even before he continued, “but I see no signs of you trying to lessen your level of attachment to her.”
“I was trying to help keep her alive! She was doing what she did on Polsing, and I had to help keep her alive then, too. Ask Master Jinn, he’ll tell you. I mean, I didn’t know whether my help was needed or not, but when I though it might be I had to try.”
To Anakin’s surprise, Master Windu seemed to stop and consider that. “Master Jinn did tell me about that, yes. If that’s true, then I suppose you have an excuse this time. But keep in mind what I’ve said. You can’t keep doing this, Initiate.”
Just then Ellé hurried out, yelling, “Anakin! Master Windu! Padmé's awake!”
Anakin would have cheered had Master Windu not been there, and as it was he couldn’t help smiling. His heart felt light even after the Master frowned and said, “Again, Initiate, heed my words.” But at least the lecturing was over; he followed Ellé back in, and Anakin, relieved that the conversation was over too, followed them.
Padmé was still limp on the bunk, but she was not only awake, but looking very alert as she talked to Tayer, who was telling her something that clearly made her very happy. Anakin wanted to run over to her and ask her what they were talking about, but Master Windu was still right there, and he had the feeling the Master wouldn’t let him. In fact, he alone went over, even Ellé stopping to talk to another one of the Initiates. And he talked softly to her, so Anakin couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was able to make out Padmé’s reponses, though, “Very good, Master,” and “Tayer said she’s looking good,” and, “I don’t know, sir, but she had some sort of disease, and I think I might have managed to cure her.”
“I’ll look at her,” he also heard Master Ostrad say, and he had to move so the Healer could exit the room. That got him even further away from Padmé, so he couldn’t hear what she said next. He could hear Master Windu’s tone in his response, though, which was at least gentler than he had expected, but still pretty commanding, and he saw Padmé nod her obedience. What had she agreed to? He had to suddenly hope it wasn’t not seeing him anymore.
The two continued to talk, and Anakin continued to not hear much, until finally he decided to go really see Mippi instead; he was curious to see how she was doing. When he stepped out into the corridor, she and her guardian were gone, presumably back to their room, and he found one of the men who lived in the complex talking with Master Gallia, which normally he’d be more interested in, except that he was pretty sure she was just getting an account of what had happened.
But to his surprise, before he could exit the corridor, Master Gallia called to him, “Initiate Skywalker, if you could come over here for a minute?”
Confused, he walked over to her, and she said, “Initiate, Master Roggs here tells me Padmé did what she did for you on Polsing for a sick child who is a resident of this complex, and that you urged her against it.”
“Yes,” he said, though he knew immediately he was in more trouble now. “I wasn’t sure if it would work,” he tried to argue.
From her stern look he knew that hadn’t helped. “Initiate, I am disappointed. I would have hoped that even if you knew nothing else, you would know that a good Jedi is always ready to lay his or her own life down in the hopes that someone else might live. Even if there is the chance that it doesn’t work they must try. Someday you yourself might face the same choice.”
“Of course I’d do it!” Anakin insisted, his voice getting loud, and he was surprised by how much he meant it. But he knew, just completely knew, that the problem hadn’t been the idea of sacrificing a Jedi’s life for another; it had been with sacrificing Padmé’s.
Master Gallia looked surprised too, but then she shook her head. “Initiate Naberrie,” she said, “has both the right and the duty to make the same sacrifice when she is the one able to make it, especially when no one else is. The fact that you do not wish her to die is irrelevant.”
“It’s not just that,” he protested, frustrated. Master Gallia knew them all, knew Padmé, knew how good and valuable she was, and how they’d all be lost without her. He would’ve expected her to understand.
“It is, Initiate,” she told him, and then he didn’t know what to do, if she was calling him a liar. He remained silent, not even trying to not be angry, as she said, “I believe you were going to see young Mippi?” When he nodded, she said, “Keep in mind that what Initiate Naberrie did is the reason she is now healthy and hopes to live. Consider the good done there. And next time you might see her put her life in danger, don’t forget it.”
He supposed it might have shocked Master Gallia and probably Master Windu too, but Anakin had no problem doing that, at least when Padmé hadn’t actually died. Even though he had been unhappy when she had started it, he was happy it had all worked out.
When he came in, he found Mippi in the company of three other Initiates, and the four of them were showing off their ability to do backflips and other tricks. The Initiates could do things she couldn’t, of course, but she was surprisingly good, and she was even able to vault herself off of all of the apartment’s few pieces of furniture from one to the other, though this got her admonishments from her guardian about how little time ago she’d been too weak and sick to move. “Hello,” she said cheerfully to Anakin when she saw him, “can you do that?”
“Sure,” he said. “Just do it again so I can see it. If you can.” But she could, and did. Having gotten the pattern of what she did down, and taken note of what parts of what furniture pieces she was using for leverage, Anakin made his way across the room and crouched on top of the old chest where she had begun. He noticed as he did the metal it was made of was rusty, not to the point where it would break from any of their weights, maybe, but it made it harder to propel himself off of it. He could use the Force, of course, but he suddenly didn’t want to. She had done it without the Force, and it seemed kind of unfair to use something she couldn’t. He looked up at the shelf, about five feet away from the right angle. He should be able to do it.
He squatted down, let himself feel the Force, just as reassurance, without harnessing it, counted to five in his head, and sprung. He went fast, but not half as fast as he usually did, and as he struggled to propel himself through the air without the Force, the shelf, instead of getting closer, almost seemed to him to be getting further away.
He managed to grab it with his hands, when he had been hoping to get his feet onto it first, and scramble half his body up onto it, which Mippi had needed to do too, but she had done it much more easily. His next target was the stick-out vent in the wall that was probably supposed to control the climate but looked like it was broken. Mippi did have an advantage over him there, since her hands were so small she’d been able to stick them in, and swing herself off the vent that way. Anakin decided that justified him using the Force just a little there. But when didn’t use it when he jumped for the vent, he never reached it; without the Force he couldn’t stay up in the air long enough and crashed hard to the floor.
“Oh dear!” exclaimed the woman, and Mippi with her. But Anakin wasn’t really hurt; he scrambled to his feet, and said quickly, “I’m okay.”
“I think that’s enough from both of you, though,” said the woman. “I believe you’ll all be going back to the Temple very shortly. Come Mippi, let us go out and say goodbye.”
Anakin almost expected someone to lecture him on his competition with Mippi, because it was the sort of behavior that got Initiates lectures, and while he wasn’t sure how they’d find out about it, he was sure they would somehow. But nothing happened during the remaining half hour or so they stayed there or on the journey back, when all three adults were in close intense conversation with each other the whole time anyway. Nor did anyone show up that evening, when they reached the Temple and were all given food and rest, much more than usual.
“Good morning, Initiate Skywalker,” he whispered, and the warmth Anakin could feel pouring out of him was almost tangible. Even though he wouldn’t have been happy with most people who weren’t Padmé waking him up this early, he found he couldn’t be mad at this man for it. Not even when he then whispered, “Would you like to come for a little bit of a walk with me?” Normally Anakin didn’t like when Masters asked him if he would like to do something, because it wasn’t like he had any choice in the matter. But here he didn’t even mind saying yes anyway.
With everyone else still asleep they couldn’t do any more talking in the dormitories, so Master Jinn led Anakin out into the corridor. They could’ve just stood and talked there, but he'd meant what he said about a walk. He kept going, at a slow pace so Anakin didn’t have to worry about losing his breath, as he started, “So, I understand you’re close friends with Initiate Naberrie.”
He had to be careful what he said to Master Jinn, he knew, because he really did want to become his Padawan. But he still couldn’t help insisting, “She’s such a wonderful person, and people are finally realizing it now, but for so long they didn’t, and how am I supposed to not care about her?”
“You aren’t,” said Master Jinn, and he smiled as if he hadn’t just told Anakin something so shocking. “I know what you’ve been told, and much of that is true. But of course you should care for someone like Padmé Naberrie. Your feelings for her have even saved her life at least once, and maybe twice. Even Master Windu can’t deny that, can he?”
“No,” grinned Anakin, “he can’t.”
Still, there was the but in there, probably involving the same thing he'd been scolded about twice already. But when Master Jinn delivered it he shocked Anakin again: “But I am worried, for both of your sakes, about whether or not you respect her.”
"RESPECT HER?!” Anakin exploded, not even remembering he’d wanted not to talk to Master Jinn like this. “Of course I respect her! Why in the universe would you think I don’t?!”
“Think about your reaction when she tried to give her life for someone else’s during your trip to the downlevels. Consider it, Initiate; there was a suffering child, whom noone else but her could help. Had you been in that position, where you were the only one who could save her life, what would you have done?”
“Of course I would’ve done it,” said Anakin, same as he has to Master Gallia, only now confused. What did that have to do with respecting Padmé?
“Exactly,” said Master Jinn. “We are Jedi and that is what we do. All of us. Including Initiate Naberrie.”
“But she shouldn’t have had to,” Anakin still protested.
“Of course not,” and there Master Jinn went, agreeing with him again, only to say, “But the universe is not a place where things always are how they ought to be, and while we Jedi do everything we can to change that, sometimes there’s a child dying on the floor right next to you and it’s too late to make things fair; you have to settle for trying to make them better.”
“It shouldn’t have been her.” Anakin knew he was whining, but he didn’t care. Why couldn’t Master Jinn understand?
“But it was,” he still insisted. “And Padmé is a Jedi too, which means that when she has to die to save someone’s life, as Master Gallia told you, she has the right and the duty to do that. And you have to respect that fact. You can care for her, and want her to live all you like, but your desire for her to live doesn’t get to override her duty and her choice to do it. That it may not be fair stops mattering, if the circumstances that cause it to not be fair are beyond your control.”
It was all things Anakin couldn’t deny. He couldn’t even argue against any of it, really, not when it was all put like that. It made him want to cry, and that was bad, because he knew Master Jinn would scold him for that.
Except he seemed to see, but didn’t scold. Instead he stopped walking and knelt to be eye-level with Anakin, and gently put his hand on his head, so big it made Anakin feel like it was almost wrapping around him. “Being a Jedi is a hard life, Initiate Skywalker. This is merely the first of many demands it will make of you, that you be able to accept this truth, and you will be fortunate if it is the most painful of them.”
“But it is a painful one,” he said, though he wasn’t sure if it was really protest anymore or not.
“I know,” said Master Jinn, and he was looking at Anakin like he really did understand that, at least. “But I believe you are a strong, good boy, Initiate Skywalker. I don’t know if my apprentice has told you this, but I have long thought I would take you as my Padawan Learner, once Obi-Wan is knighted. I would not consider it if I did not think you worthy of being a Jedi.”
For a moment Anakin wanted to ask about Padawan Kenobi being upset by this, and especially to say he was sorry if he had messed things up between them. But he had the feeling he shouldn’t, and anyway Master Jinn was still looking so gently at him he didn’t want to say anything that might make him mad. So he just said, “Thank you, Master Jinn, sir. I know that doesn’t happen a lot.”
“Perhaps a little more often than you think,” was Master Jinn’s response, and he was still smiling, but there was something funny about the way he said it, as if it made him think of something sad. “Shall we go back to your dormitory?”
Of course the answer to that had to be yes, but strangely enough, Anakin felt disappointed in giving it. Master Jinn had been unlike every other Master he had ever met. He seemed to not only know all the things Anakin didn’t know, which of course they all did, but he seemed to understand the other things the other Masters didn’t, that he thought Master Windu would never understand, and he was kind, the way all Jedi were supposed to be, but most of the Masters weren’t, at least not to Anakin. It made him very glad Master Jinn would be his master. He wished Padmé could get as good a one, instead of stupid old Master Windu.
“When will I see you again?” he could help asking as they reached the dormitory.
“I don’t know,” said Master Jinn. “I know the Council is intending to send me and Padawan Kenobi on a mission related to the new threat; we have already been on one, and I expect we’ll probably be called in to be given the details sometime today. I don’t know how long it will take, or even if we’ll be able to come back to Coruscant when we’re done with it, instead of just getting sent straight to somewhere else from wherever we are when the mission is complete. Even if we do come back here, I can’t promise to come and see you. You must understand, Anakin, this has always been the way we do things in the Order, but it’s probably going to be all the more so now.”
“I know that,” said Anakin, because he’d heard some of his fellow Initiates talk about that; he and Padmé weren't the first who was marked by their future Master before they actually became a Padawan. “But will I at least see you again before I become your apprentice?”
“That date might not be as far away as you think,” said Master Jinn. “I think Padawan Kenobi should be ready for the Trials before the year is out, at the latest. Perhaps even sooner, given how much things have changed for all of us this past month. It is not impossible that I’ll be back for you before you’ll even have time to miss me, especially if they keep you busy here.”
“I could miss you,” said Anakin. “You’re very nice.”
“Thank you, Initiate Skywalker,” he smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Good day, Initiate Skywalker. May the Force be with you.”
Anakin wasn’t sure why it wouldn’t be a compliment, but Masters were always a little weird, so he just said, “May the Force be with you, too.”
Everyone was still asleep, even Padmé, but when Anakin saw the chronometer, he guessed she at least would probably be awake within an hour at most. Still he was very careful crawling back under the covers on his bunk.
He dozed off a little, maybe for half an hour or so, but he was pulled out of it when again he heard someone come in, someone too big to be any of the other Initiates walking through the dormitories. He heard rustling that he was dead certain was Padmé stirring, and then heard her whisper to herself, “Master Windu.”
He cracked one eye slightly open, enough to see she was right; Master Windu had come in. He watched as he lightly sprung to her feet, all paying fierce attention even before he addressed her. “Initiate Naberrie? I wish to discuss a few matters with you.” He didn’t talk nearly as quietly as Master Jinn had, Anakin thought. That was irresponsible of him; he could have easily woken anyone up.
At least he didn’t insist they have the talk in there; when she suggested they go out into the corridor he agreed, and Anakin nursed his relief and his anxiety both; he both didn’t want to hear what words he was saying to her, and wanted to know what demands he was making of her. But the only other thing he was going to hear was Master Windu saying, “This will not take long.”
Anakin would later wonder what the Master’s idea of “long” was. Unable to even doze when all he could think about was Padmé being out there with Master Windu, he ended up getting up, and a little bit of time before the others did too. When they did, he ended up telling them about Master Windu, because his fellow Initiates all wanted to know where she was. He was pleased that they all agreed with him he shouldn’t have woken her up so early. There was more than one moment, too, where the story of Master Jinn dropping in to talk with him was at the tip of his tongue, but somehow he found himself not wanting to talk about it. He wasn’t even sure why. He just wanted to keep it to himself, unless he maybe told Padmé, and he wasn’t sure he could do even that when they’d been talking about her.
Because of some new rules that had come into place two weeks before, they had to wait until she came back before they could go to the new Refectory, and Anakin’s stomach was growling by the time the two of them did return, when Master Windu announced he would be escorting them to breakfast and would afterwards tell them a few important things they needed to know. That did not make Anakin happy, but to his relief after they started the trek Padmé didn’t stay with him; instead she first fell in with Anakin, and then led them both over to Ellé, while Master Windu instead began talking with some other Initiates, wanting to give his attention to as many of them as easily done, maybe.
Still Anakin leaned in and whispered, soft as he could manage, “What did you two talk about?”
She shrugged. “Wanted to see how well I was recovering, mostly.” She was recovering very well this time; she still was on her feet and moving no problem. “Also wanted to know a bit more about what I was doing last month, since he really hadn’t had the opportunity to ask earlier.”
“When did he get back anyway?” asked Ellé. “I thought I heard he wasn’t back that morning before we went out with Master Gallia.”
“He didn’t say, exactly. But I think it was only a couple of hours before he came to the downlevels. Master Ostrad even said originally Master Yaddle was the one intending to come down with her, but she was called off on some urgent matter, and Master Windu volunteered to accompany her instead.”
Anakin knew Padmé was admiring him all the more for that. It made him despair inside a little. He suddenly didn’t want to hear any more.
Thankfully just then they arrived at the Refectory, and he said, “Smells good. Don’t think we’re having that doughy stuff again.”
“No,” agreed Padmé. “Smells like there’s eggs involved today. Though they also have baked something, maybe more than one thing.” This wasn’t the first time that month that Anakin had thought her senses were getting better. Despite the crowd of voices in the dorms she always seemed to hear what everyone was saying in the room she was in, and one night she’d shown the ability to see in the dark much better than him. She’d never shown any signs of these kind of things before the Temple had been attacked.
It turned out to be eggs scrambled white and buns, and the three of them sat together with Octus and Donnie and talked mostly about their lessons and how they were doing with their katas, and of course the big adventure they’d just had, though Anakin found he really didn’t want to talk about that much. Maybe he was feeling a little bit ashamed now, because he had to admit Qui-Gon was right; Padmé had the right to sacrifice herself, much as he hated it, and thought everybody else should too.
He thought of those days that felt much more than a month ago, when he and Padmé would finish and leave together, apart from everyone else. That couldn’t happen anymore, because since two weeks ago, when they were done, everyone went to stand near the door and wait for the others, where Padmé would spend her time say at least a word or two to everybody, and Anakin would either watch her or just stand about and wish they could go already, though sometimes he found it nice to talk with Ellé, or even someone else.
This morning, a little bit unusually, he didn’t have the time to do much of any of these options. Something about Master Windu being there must have made everyone eat fast, because they were soon all done and lining up and filing out. It happened so fast Anakin wasn’t able to get near Padmé in the line. Instead he tried to keep track of her head bobbing near the front. He knew she had to be staring very hard at Master Windu.
He did manage to find her again as they all crowded into the big room, and when Master Windu looked perturbed he simply glared at him. He wasn’t giving up her company, and there could be no good reason why he should, at least until he took Padmé as a Padawan. He ought to, if he cared that much. Besides, Master Windu had more important things to worry about, and he knew that too, because he clearly turned his attention away to look over the other Initiates as they bunched up together.
When everyone was settled he said, “What I am about to tell you will frighten you, and it will give you a lot to think about. I remind you all to remember what you have been taught, and to not let your thoughts or actions be ruled by fear, but to let your fear go as much as you can, and do not let it lead you to emotions still darker.”
A pause, during which Anakin told himself he wasn’t afraid, only impatient, and then he said, “We suspected already, even before the events that have recently transpired, that those who attacked the Temple a month ago would especially want to destroy you all, as you are the future of the Jedi Order. In fact, we nearly cancelled the trip because of it, though ultimately our knowledge of the situation was such that we did not at the time think then was when they would attack. Obviously we were mistaken, and like you, we have learned some hard lessons recently.”
“Are we not going to be going anywhere anymore?” asked Xiaan, not even trying to hide her dismay.
“Not necessarily,” he answered. “You probably will do so less, however, and under much stronger guard, and we will do everything we can to limit the amount of people who know where you are. Also, we are increasing your lessons on self-defense, as well as escaping and evading danger, which will serve you well even when you grow older. I myself will be seeing you every week for lessons when I am on Coruscant.
Finally, we are considering the possibility of moving all of you off Coruscant, to Ossus, or to another location. This would be a very dangerous journey to make, of course, and I will say I don’t think it will happen, but is something that might, and you must all prepare yourself for it, if it does happen.”
Just then the door opened, and Master Yaddle appeared. Master Windu bowed to her, saying, “I believe it is your turn to teach the Younglings this morning, Master Yaddle. I will be back this afternoon to give them the first of my own lessons for them.”
When he was gone, Master Yaddle took a look around, and said, “Disturbed, frightened, by what he has said?”
“Well...yeah,” said Tru Veld. “How can we not be?”
“A chance, this is, then, to learn how to control your fear,” she said. “Think of this, all of you. What good, do you think, does it do to be afraid right now?”
“Not much,” said Padmé, who was good at answering their instructors like that.
“But good, you must know, it will do if, instead, on what I have to teach you, you think?” A murmur from around the room acknowledged this. “Remember what already, we teach you. Let go of your fear.”
She was nice enough to even give them a few minutes to do so, and the crazy thing was, Anakin thought he could kind of feel it when the fear started to leak out of all of them and away into the Force. It sort of made the room feel a lot better, easier. He felt Padmé next to him especially, and her fear went away faster than everyone else’s, but of course she was better at it than they were. Really, Anakin didn’t know what Master Windu was waiting for.
That might have been part of why he actually didn’t have any fear to release, at least, not much more than he’d suffered through already. Though he thought that might have been easier to release than the irritation he instead felt, that Master Windu was going to be showing up as much as he was, and Anakin was going to have to be listening to and learning from him himself so often.