Anakin wasn’t sure whether to be upset or not that they’d done so for nearly two months without him knowing about it. It had been kind of weird the way she’d done it, typing out short notes every morning and evening on the side console she’d managed to find near her bunk(or maybe Windu had arranged for her bunk to be near), although most of the time it was covered by a panel that blended into the wall. She did it usually even as she was talking to someone, and Anakin often right there, if maybe not directly paying attention. So she hadn’t really tried to conceal it, except the way she’d just sort of projected that he wasn’t supposed to ask questions about the console.
Maybe he should’ve figured it out on his own. But she was still in charge of the Initiates, after all. She could've just been reporting about them to other Masters. That was what he'd mostly thought she was doing. He hadn't found out otherwise until he’d woken up from yet another dream about his mother-not a nightmare, exactly, but not a happy dream either, and seen her leaning over the console looking upset, and he’d immediately bounded over and asked what was wrong, and seen the message, in which Master Windu had been writing about some other knight getting killed, before talking about her progress in “the meditation exercises I taught you last time.”
He was definitely upset that she didn’t like him to know too much about what they were talking about, getting difficult when he came over to the console and avoiding answering his questions. They’d never, ever kept anything from each other like that before the attack on the Temple. After that, of course, there’d been a few things that Padmé had been told that she’d been ordered not to tell the others, but obviously that was different, and would involve big important things about the Jedi Order in general, not the life of she herself. This was stuff that affected Padmé specifically. Maybe he could've even understood if that Master Windu had forbidden her to talk about it to him. But he actually asked her at one point if he had. and she said he hadn’t. Somehow, she decided on her own that there were important things about herself she didn’t want him to know about anymore. That really hurt.
Such as right now, when he was lying awake, and watching her type away, and he wanted so badly to go over there and see what she was saying. But he knew she’d get angry if he did, and he didn’t want to deal with that. Another thing he’d learned over the last six months was that there was nothing in the galaxy worse than when Padmé was upset with him. Except maybe feeling upset with her for shutting him out, but he wasn’t sure which one of those was worse.
She knew he was awake, he was sure of it. Even if she wasn’t looking over, but was just staring at that panel as her fingers moved below it, and it felt like she was generating a force-field with how rigid she was.
He could tell when she finished and sent her message; he watched her bend her head, and breathe in deep enough he could see her chest move. That didn’t surprise him, though he did wonder what Master Windu had just told her.
What did surprise him was when, instead of taking a round through the dormitories, as she often did in the wee hours of the morning, or even just going back to her bunk, she instead walked straight over to his. She stood over him for a long minute, while he, eyes open, just looked back, and wished he could still know what she was thinking the way he always had once.
Then she sat down, on the floor, which left them more or less at eye-level, and sort of leaned her head on the bunk so that they were really face to face. “You know,” she said. “It’s not because of who you are. Why I haven’t been showing you the messages, I mean.”
He believed her, but only because she’d never ever lied to him. “Than what is it because of?” he asked her.
“I don’t know, exactly.” She sighed. “It’s just I feel different now. I don’t even know why. But suddenly I don’t want anyone to know everything about me. That’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Master Windu wouldn’t like that,” he pointed out.
“I know,” she said. “You know, I had a meeting with Master Billaba recently. She wanted to tell me that it wasn’t impossible to make Master Windu smile, though it’s really, really hard, and where he wants your focus to be when you’re fourteen, and where he wants it to be when you’re fifteen, and sixteen, and so on. Also the chores he got impatient when she failed to do them, so I think I’d do those without being asked first. But...” She drifted off, as if she didn’t want to tell him what she would’ve said next, which made him sad again.
But at least she didn’t stop him when he reached out a hand. In fact, she raised her own hand to take it, and she moved in closer, until her head was lying completely on the bunk, and the two of them were pretty close to snuggled up.
Then, her voice choked up, she whispered, “I’m going to miss you so much, Ani.”
“I’m going to miss you too,” he said, and he moved his own head, until their foreheads touched. He closed his eyes so he could focus on what he could feel there, both the physical warmth from her body and the essence of her presence, the sort of thing he could sense coming from her. She knew that he was doing that, and maybe that was part of the reason why she placed her hands on his back, not really hugging him, because they didn’t move any closer, but still holding him. “You’re getting stronger. You’re going to make an amazing Jedi.”
“So will you,” he was sure to say.
“But you’re going to be greater.” She said it very matter-of-factly. “You know that already. I don’t know if you need to be any Prophetic Chosen One or anything like that, the way Master Jinn and some of the other Masters think you're going to be, including I think Master Windu, by the way. But even if you’re not, and that’s not what you do, you’ll still do great things, things I might not be able to do.”
The thought of all that still scared Anakin a little, but he liked her words, her faith in him. He reached behind himself and took hold of one of her hands. “Friends forever?” he asked. “Even if we don’t see each other much, we can still think of each other, and remember each other, right?”
“Right,” she said, and squeezed.
They stayed that way for a few more minutes, then, saying nothing, because they didn’t need to say anymore. Then Padmé said, “Milo’s up,” and rose to go to where he was in the other room to wish him a good morning. That was a regular thing she did for the first risers of the day, more often recently, which he took as another sign she expected to soon be gone from them.
By now they’d learned most of what the Jedi Order knew about how the Sith had operated during the last thousand years, when everyone had thought they’d been wiped out. They’d also learned generally that there’d been a series of big wars with the Sith over 3500 years ago. But when they were all sat down that day, Master Nu said, “Today we are going to learn about the different Sith Wars. Can anyone tell me what the individual wars were and when they took place?”
Anakin wondered why she asked that; of course they all could. Different students listed them off for her, from the Great Sith War that had started it all in 32,457 BTYA, to the Sith Civil War, the Dark Wars and the three year decimation of the Order at the hands of the Sith Triumvirate before they had been vanquished in 32,504 BTYA. “Today,” she said when they had all been named, “we will focus in for the first time on the Dark Wars, and the Jedi Purge that happened during them.
Now, as you know, when the Dark Wars began, another war had just ended: the Jedi Civil War. The Jedi Order had more or less won that war, but our numbers had been decimated already; there were only a hundred knights left in the Order. Still, we initially did not worry, because we had broken the Sith Empire, their forces were all scattered, and we briefly thought they could do us no more harm.”
“But they didn’t stay hidden long that time, did they?” said Octus, who, like the rest of them, had quickly realized the similarity of that time period to their own.
“No,” said Master Nu. “But that was because they wouldn’t have to. Although the top two Sith commanders, Darths Revan and Malak, had both been taken out, and the latter was dead, the members of the Sith Triumvirate were able to keep track of us. And they saw our failure to unite, that the hundred Jedi did not hold any loyalty to each other or to the Order any longer. That made us easy prey.”
“Wasn’t it that the Republic didn’t want us, though?” asked Xiaan. “It was that the fights we’d been having with the Sith had resulted in lots of people being killed, and not just Jedi and Sith, but other people too, and since most of the worst of the Sith were fallen Jedi, especially when Darth Revan had been the hero on our side during the previous war, they were afraid we were all going to become bad guys and try to kill them all.”
Anakin didn’t think Master Nu had been happy about her talking about that; maybe she’d planned that part of the lesson for later. But for now she said, “Yes, another one of the problems was that so many Jedi had fallen. This was something that made it hard for the hundred survivors to unite, too, because it left them at least somewhat afraid of each other.”
Anakin had to look at Padmé then, who actually wasn’t sitting next to him; when everyone had crowded into the room she’d ended up a couple of people away. As long as she was alive, he thought, nobody ought not to trust her. Had none of those hundred Jedi left been like her? Or maybe there had been someone, but his or her fellow knights hadn’t realized it?
He wasn’t the only one looking around, he noticed. The two Initiates between himself and Padmé exchanged glances, and he saw other Initiates do so too. He also thought he saw Ellé looking at him.
Master Nu saw what they were doing, of course. “It may be hard for all of you here today to understand what it was like,” she said. “In fact, I don’t think very many people at all in the modern Jedi Order would find it easy to comprehend what those survivors had been through, and what they felt. Over the last thousand years we have been blessed with a united Order, for much of it with no shortage of knights available, and nothing that threatened our very existence. That creates its own difficulties for us now, however, because we aren’t as prepared to deal with something like these Sith attacks as we otherwise would have been.
The Dark Wars started before the Purge did, and not all of conflicts that happened in the galaxy at that time were even connected to either the Jedi or the Sith, and a lot of them were also caused by Sith turning on each other. These were usually not the highest-ranked Sith, however; these were the minions, who now felt no loyalty to their former leaders, but merely wanted to consolidate some power for themselves and having a space to rule during their own lifetimes.”
“That’s a sad thing, though, isn’t it?” said Padmé softly. “That the Sith don’t have to get along with each other at all to do the galaxy so much damage, but in fact can cause more woe when they don’t get along, but we Jedi are wiped out when we can’t unite.”
“That is the way of those who try to do good,” said Master Nu. “It’s harder to create something than to destroy something, and it is harder to do good and to do ill, and harder still to keep the more evil forces of the galaxy from undoing what good you did. The Jedi found out both during and after the Sith Wars how quickly their numbers could be wiped out, and how long and hard it was to rebuild them, especially when the evil forces that killed so many of them would not stay gone.”
“Master Nu,” cut in Dttus Niso. “How bad is the Order right now? How long will it take for us to rebuild, even if the Sith don’t attack again?”
The boy next to him hastily shushed him, but Master Nu did not make any objections, the way she always did when Anakin asked her his questions. Instead she thought about it for a couple of minutes, before saying, “We are certainly not as bad as they were after the Jedi Civil War; we have plenty more people left. But to get back to the numbers we were at before, even if we are not attacked again, will likely take decades.”
A murmur passed through the room; none of them had really realized that before. That they might all be old before things again became the way they were before the attack. That some of them might not even live long enough to see it.
“That probably further discouraged those hundred Jedi, didn’t it?” observed Jia’mosa. “That they couldn’t get the Order back to the way it was, not by themselves.”
“It might have,” said Master Nu. “Though even if it was the reason they despaired, that does not mean that we must despair, remember. Yes, the restoration of our numbers will take decades, but if we are willing to dedicate ourselves to preserving the Order and allowing it to grow back, the way Meetra Surik’s students did when the Sith Wars were at last over, then there is a good chance of it happening. Remember, we all came from their efforts to preserve the Order and rebuild it.
But those hundred Jedi,” she said, getting back on subject. “They did not realize this. And meanwhile, the Sith did all they could to scatter them around and lure them into traps. Although, as I said earlier, not all of the conflicts of the Dark Wars were caused by the Sith, many of them were, sometimes where it didn't look like they'd caused because they'd done so in secret. We are still not one hundred percent certain of how many fights they were involved in and how many they weren’t. We do know they were behind the blood extremist rebellion on Alderaan, the piratical raids on the outer worlds of the Corellian System, the continuous unrest on Duros, and other similar crises that kept our best knights distracted, left them unable to put in the effort to connect events when their colleagues started vanishing. It was done quickly as well. The first group of Jedi vanished while they were gathered on Dantooine early in 32,501 BTYA, and by the time the year was out over half of them were gone. Another problem was at the time Jedi were not keeping close track of each other, and it took that year for those on the Council to even hear that multiple groups of knights had vanished.
That would never happen today, of course; we have learned to keep much better track of each other, both through the Force and by technological means. Back then, you see, most Jedi could only keep track through the Force of those they had...I won’t go so far as to say attachments, though of course those weren’t forbidden back then, but a connection to, a familiarity with, and usually they had to like them as well. You can imagine how being limited in this way crippled them. It was when they started to rebuild the Order after the Dark Wars were over that they started to learn how to subliminate themselves past that, to make their primary sense of the Force and who was generating it every living thing around them, and automatically sense everybody, whether or not they even knew their names.”
“You make it sound as if the other way was bad,” said Anakin. When the attention of both her and the room turned on him, and she did not look too happy, he added, “I mean, obviously it’s good to be able to sense everybody. But does that really make it bad to be able to sense some people really strongly?”
“It has its uses,” Padmé added. “For a Master and a Padawan to keep track of each other when physically separated, for instance.”
“That ability does indeed have its place,” admitted Master Nu, though she sounded kind of dismissive of it even so. “But relying on it too much was a mistake the Order made once, and as a result when multiple foes sought its destruction, it was very lucky to survive. And it is good to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to not repeat them.”
“Is that why attachments are forbidden?” asked Tru Veld.
“That,” said Master Nu, “was a decision made for many reasons, when it was, after being debated for years beforehand, although by then thousands of years had passed since the end of the Sith Wars.”
Anakin hoped she didn’t talk too much more about that. Whenever anyone around him did, it made him aware of how many of them he knew disapproved of how close he and Padmé were. But what else could they have done? For so many years they’d really had nothing besides each other. And it felt wrong to him to not care for Padmé, and really want and worry about what was best for her. And of course there was how saved her life at least once and probably twice.
Those thoughts were still swarming about in the back of his head when towards the end of the lesson the doorchime rang, and Master Windu stepped in. All he said was, “If I may see Initiate Naberrie?”
Nobody said anything, not even in a whisper. They all knew Master Windu wouldn’t have been happy if they had. But they all knew. All eyes in the room turned onto Padmé, and Anakin was close enough to see how she was starting to tremble, though she rose readily enough and said, “Yes, Master Windu,” and followed him out.
And that was it, Anakin thought. It was possible he might never see her again. And he was just expected to sit here and continue to listen to Master Nu and act as if nothing had happened.
He didn’t know how he did it, last through those last ten minutes. Well, he kind of did it. He sat there, and he didn’t start crying, and he even heard parts of what Master Nu talked about, what battles had occurred at what times and things like that. But his mind kept drifting back, wondering where Padmé was at that moment, if she’d already arrived at her new Master’s quarters, or even if he’d maybe only picked her up right before going off on their first mission together, and they weren’t even on the planet anymore.
When it was finally over, and everyone rose and started talking or slowly moving to make their way back, Anakin, even though he knew it was disrespectful, leapt up and ran out of the room. He thought he heard Master Nu call after him, but he’d take whatever punishment later. Without stopping he ran back to the dorm.
When he burst in, the first thing he heard was the hum of a lightsaber blade. That almost made him run back, screaming they were being attacked, but he stopped himself, and instead snuck to the entrance of the room he and Padmé slept in, where he had heard the sound coming from.
It was Master Windu’s lightsaber, and he was just in time to see it slice through Padmé’s long, beautiful hair. It now hung limp in her hands; she had held it out to make it easier for him. All that was left on her head was enough around to just touch her shoulders, and a thin strip of it, still at its original length, by her ear.
Anakin forced himself to look at her face. She actually didn’t look overjoyed in exactly the way he would’ve thought, she was too calm for that. But he could still see the happiness that he could also feel radiating out of her. It was so strong he didn’t even have to force himself to feel happy for her. That happened on its own, even when his heart was breaking too.
But then, after first pulling the rest of her hair into the ponytail, Master Windu knelt very close to Padmé as she sat down on the nearest bunk, took the strip of hair between his fingers, and began to do her padawan braid. And even though he knew that was good, and to have him do it probably just made Padmé even happier, Anakin didn’t like the way her eyes changed. They’d been focused on her new Master already, of course, but now there was something new in them. It was kind of worshipful, which was bad enough, but there was also a keenness, a desperate eagerness, and some sort of wishing in them too. That last one was especially confusing. What in the galaxy could Padmé want now, when the only thing Anakin had ever seen her really want she finally had?
As the tips of his large fingers brushed her skin, he saw Padmé close her eyes, which was just weird; why should that make her blink and almost quail away as if she had been overwhelmed? But it did; Anakin could see by the time Master Windu withdrew she had grown short of breath. He wasn’t even sure she realized he was there before her new Master, who of course had noticed, turned to him and asked, without sounding too friendly, “Is the class out yet, Initiate?”
“It is,” said Anakin. “Only just now.” He had to get up his courage when he was looking Master Windu in the face, but he reminded himself of what he knew was right, no matter what anyone told him, and said, “Do you think, Master Windu, you and Padmé can stay here long enough for her to say goodbye to everybody? I mean, she’s really been involved in taking care of us all a lot.”
“I have been, Master,” said Padmé. “It would make them very happy.” But not only did she not actually ask him, but she spoke in a more soft and humble tone than he’d ever heard come out of her. And he was never, ever, ever going to like that.
But it worked; Master Windu’s frown softened, and he said, “All right,” just as they heard the door to the dormitory open, and multiple voices as the rest of the Initiates came back in. Ellé too must have guessed what was going on, because she came running in ahead of the rest. When the younger girl reached her Padmé pulled her up into a hug, and that made Anakin feel a little better, that she would still do that without asking permission from Master Windu. But he wondered if he’d make her in the future. Even now after a moment she looked up at him anxiously for a moment, though she then relaxed, apparently seeing something in his unchanging expression Anakin didn’t.
“Is is true?” Ellé whimpered. “That none of us are ever going to see you again?”
“Who told you that?” Padmé demanded. “That’s not necessarily true. It is true you might not, but there’s no reason we might not run into each other throughout all our lives, especially now, when the Order’s so much smaller. In fact, thanks to that, I think it’s more likely than not you will see me again, and multiple times, isn’t that right, Master?”
“It is,” said Master Windu. “Although it will probably be a number of years for you, Initiate Okrest, until you are taken as a Padawan.”
Ellé didn’t want to let go, but as the others came in Padmé gently pulled her arms off of her and stepped away. On their own accord they all came into the room, crowding it up until Master Windu said, “Out into the big room. We want to talk to all of you briefly.”
Out they went, and Anakin wanted to stay close to Padmé, not spend these final few minutes too far away from her. But he suddenly found himself with a new responsibility, when Ellé grabbed his hand, and looked at him in a way that clearly said Without her you’re the closest thing I have to someone I feel safe around and I can rely on to take care of me no matter what. That kind of put them in the same position, but he had to admit she might have depended on Padmé more than even he had. He wondered what she would do when Master Jinn came.
Learn to be responsible. Learn to accept that Padmé was going away and he had to be proper about it and not let his feelings stop him from doing what was right.
So he squeezed her hand back, and stayed by her, even if it meant he wasn’t accompanying Padmé as she and her new Master went to the far side of the room so they could face everyone.
It was Master Windu who spoke. “As many of you have no doubt guessed, I have, just now, taken Padmé Naberrie as my Padawan Learner. It is time for her to become an apprentice, and begin this new phase of her training to become a Jedi Knight.
I am aware that it will not be an easy transition for you to be without her, because she has been responsible for taking care of you all. However, rest assured you will be in good hands. Initiate Seirr?”
“Yes, sir?” Sticky Seirr, an older red-haired initiate Anakin had talked to but never known very well, stepped forward. When asked by Master Windu if he was the oldest after Padmé, he confirmed it. “I don’t know when I’m going to be taken as a Padawan, sir,” he added. “A couple of Masters have visited and talked to me.”
“Well, until you are, you must act in Padawan Naberrie’s place. For these first few days, we shall try to help you by sending whatever Padawans are available. She had told me she has already talked to you about this, and that you know and understand all your duties already.”
“I do, sir,” said Seirr, though he still looked pretty uncertain. Anakin wondered when that had happened, since he didn’t remember seeing it happen. But he wasn’t surprised she’d done it. Of course she’d thought of them losing her and prepared for it.
He also wondered if Seirr was capable of being as warm and loving to them all as Padmé was. Certainly he couldn’t be to Anakin himself what Padmé had been, though of course he didn’t expect that anyway.
“We Masters will also all be here as we always are,” said a new voice from the back; Master Nu had come in. “We may come to see you and stay a little longer than usual over the next week, although things are such now that we can’t promise anything.
Remember,” she continued, “this is going to be a normal part of your lives, especially now, when some of you may get taken as Padawans faster than usual. The older among you are going to say goodbye, and you’re going to have to let them go. The important thing you have to remember is we are all still together within the Jedi Order, playing our own parts, and there will always be someone to take care of you and give you what you need, until you grow up and are strong, and the only thing you need is to be able to fulfill the needs of others.”
Anakin saw how much better that made a lot of the other Initiates feel, including Ellé, who visibly relaxed. He found himself realizing then he might never be able to say to anybody that someone else doing all the things Padmé had done with him would never be the same. He felt that thought tighten within him and grow heavy, a weight he could never get rid of.
“May the Force be with you, Padmé,” said Octus, who was standing very near here, and he reached out and tentatively shook her hand. When Master Windu made no objection, the others started reaching out their hands too, and Padmé started moving through everyone.
Ellé had tears in her eyes when she reached the two of them. “Don’t cry,” Padmé said gently to her. “It’ll be all right. You’ll be all right. You know that.”
“And you know that too, Ani,” she added, turning to him. “You do know that.” He suspected she was only trying to make it sound like a statement instead of a question because the two Masters were there. Of course she was worried, and with sadness he found himself thinking she still would worry, no matter what he said now.
He tried his best, though, saying to her, “It’s okay. I’ll be okay. I promise.” He tried so hard to mean it, and he thought he kind of succeeded. He supposed when it came to getting up and going about things all day and managing and doing what he was supposed to do and being responsible, he really would be fine.
She was making her way out of the room while doing the handshakes, finishing up near the door. She ended up shaking hands with Seirr last, somehow, and she said something to him probably about taking good care of them, before stepping back through the door, and holding her hand up, until it closed, and she was gone.
Anakin found himself wandering off from the others, even Ellé, whom he fell away from somehow, back towards his bunk. He lay down on it, and just let himself think about everything, about Padmé, about the attack on the Temple and everything that had happened after it, about Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi, about Ellé and the others, about his mother, about just how much had happened in the past six months, and, maybe most of all, just about how alone he felt then.
To his surprise, his session of laying there and being sad wasn’t ended by the need to go and eat lastmeal, or by Ellé coming to be in his company again, or even by one of the other Initiates wanting to talk to him or see how he was doing. Instead he looked up to see the unexpected entrance of Master Nu, who’d he thought had left. “Do you remember what I said?” she asked him. “About your mother?”
“Yes,” said Anakin dully. “You said you’d tell me about her when I’m older.”
“Well,” she said, “there are still a lot of things about her you’re not ready to know yet, but I think you’re close to ready to learn more than you already know. Especially about the life she lived before she was captured by the Sith.”
“I know she had a padawan who the Sith killed,” said Anakin. “I’ve read a little about him.”
“I’m afraid he I don’t know much about still,” she shrugged. “But I can tell you what she was like when she was young, what sort of person she was, and how she became that way. As I said, not tonight, but probably sometime within the next few months. So I’ll let you have that to look forward to.”
“Thank you, Master Nu,” Anakin said, and he really was grateful, because he really did want to know more about his mother. He supposed it was nice of her too to tell him that day, when she must have known he’d be sad about Padmé leaving. It made him think maybe she wasn’t so mean a person after all.