Anakin stood off to the side, fist pressed against his mouth, as he listened to his heart pounding in his ears. Her voice - he could hear her voice – he'd almost forgotten what she sounded like. The gentleness of her speech, her light, lilting accent… He could hear the longing and desperation to reach him in her voice; the same desperate longing that ached throughout his entire chest. He shut his eyes hard against the tears that threatened to fall.
He could go over there. He could go over to the comm and speak to her. But he couldn't. He couldn't see her that way - as a small blue holo light years away. He couldn't break without having her there so he could fall safely into her arms. So he stood on the other side of the room while Obi-Wan spoke to her, silent tears finally falling down his cheeks as he heard his mother say she was coming. Immediately. As fast as she could fly, she would be on Bandomeer.
He vaguely heard Obi-Wan giving her coordinates and directions. He vaguely heard them discuss the Jedi. He almost missed the tremor in his bond with Obi-Wan – but caught it in time before he buried it. Opening his wet eyes, he watched the man converse so naturally with his mother. Too soon, the holo disappeared. Her blue, grainy visage was gone from their home, but soon she would be there for real. And he would hold onto her tight and never let go. No one would ever take her from him again.
He jumped slightly at Obi-Wan's soft hands on his cheeks brushing away the tears, not expecting it, so lost in thought. His stiff shoulders softened and slumped and he fell forward into Obi-Wan's arms. Anakin hid his face in his shoulder and let himself be held by strong arms and a warmth that never failed to soothe him. He wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan's waist and held tight.
"Are you okay?" asked Anakin. "She mentioned the Jedi and you – I wasn't really listening, but I felt you-"
"Am I okay? I believe I should be asking you that."
"Don't change the subject." Anakin sniffed, and wiped his wet eyes on Obi-Wan's shoulder. He felt Obi-Wan sigh, and squeeze him tighter letting him have the distraction.
"The Jedi she was in contact with…the one who said he'd keep an eye out for you was Qui-Gon Jinn."
"Who was he?"
"The last hope I had of becoming a Jedi."
"I'm all right. I just wasn't expecting to hear that name. He must have crossed paths with Master Windu at some point. Which is why he had the information for you."
"Are you sure?"
Obi-Wan pulled back and looked up into his eyes. "Yes. I am. This time with you has made me reflect on a lot of things. You've helped me become less bitter about my failure to become a Jedi. They were all I'd ever known my entire life. It's what I was raised to be, and then to lose that… I had no idea where to go from there. I lost myself somewhere along the way, and didn't see or realize that there was no failure in serving another branch of the Order. The Force works in mysterious ways. Without being here, I wouldn't have you. I…wouldn't trade this for anything."
Anakin smiled and pressed his forehead to Obi-Wan's.
"Look at us. Growing as people."
Obi-Wan smiled back at him. "It feels like a lifetime ago. And with what they've done to us most recently, I'm ready to let go."
"What's that mean for us?"
"I suppose it will depend when your mother gets here."
"Yeah," said Anakin, pulling back and wiping his face. "Just hearing her voice… I…I couldn't face her like that. I need to see her in person, to know that it's truly real, and that she's here. How long until-"
"It's early morning on Alderaan right now. By the time she can find a flight, probably a few hours. Almost late evening for us."
"Right…" said Anakin, nodding. "Everything's moving so fast right now. I feel like I can barely catch up."
"I know what you mean. But we'll meet it – together."
Anakin squeezed Obi-Wan's hand. A hiccupped whirring noise interrupted them as they both looked down to see S0-X pathetically making its way towards them, sock trailing out from beneath it.
"How many did you eat this time?" Anakin asked the vacuum bot.
"You know we have a clothes hamper, yes?"
"If your clothes actually made it in, this wouldn't happen."
"He's trying, okay?"
"You could reprogram him to not eat socks and underwear."
"It's part of his charm," said Anakin, picking up the bot. "He means well."
Glad for the distraction, Anakin took S0-X over to the couch, and laid him on his lap. Reaching for his tools on the side table, he got to work opening the bottom. With the way the little bot was sounding, he probably had both of Anakin's haphazardly discarded socks stuck inside his vacuum bag. Really, he meant well. Getting lost in the job of de-socking the bot, Anakin fell into an easy rhythm. From the kitchen he could hear Obi-Wan put the kettle on. He smiled.
"Why wasn't I –the Council, " corrected Mace, "informed of this the minute it happened?"
"My first duty is to the health of my patients, Master Windu," said Vokara Che narrowing her eyes. "We informed the Council after Master Billaba stabilized. There was no reason for us to contact you otherwise. You're not a Healer, what help could you have been?"
She was right. As hard as it was for Mace, he knew nothing would have come out of the information but worry and the possibility of false hope. But now-
"She's awake. She's been awake for days and you've-"
"Helped her make sense of her awakening after years in a coma? Put her in a healing trance to help both her mind and body heal? Given her access to a Mind Healer to help her process what happened during her kidnapping? Yes, we've done all those things even though I suspect that wasn't where your thought was headed, was it?"
"Apologies Master Che. I was surprised by the news."
"I can't believe I'm saying this to a senior Council Member," said Master Che as they approached the private room. "Release your emotions to the Force, Master Windu and greet her with a clear head. Do not overwhelm her and if she tires then I expect you to let her rest."
Mace nodded and watched her depart after giving him a suspicious look. He understood where she was coming from but…
The Jedi were going to change. It had not yet been made known to the Order at large, but he knew they would have resistance. Change would not happen overnight and many would cling to the Old Ways…but…there had to be a way to meet in the middle. To find what was working and what didn't.
Sighing, Mace turned towards the door and decided not to surrender his feelings to the Force. Change has to start somewhere.
The clash of emotions he felt upon hearing that Depa was awake couldn't be described but he tried to make sense of them. Relief, elation, joy, worry. He felt everything; it was the first time he let himself truly feel.
Upon entering her room, it looked no different than it had before. He didn't know why he expected it to look or feel different. The blinds were still half drawn, sending shadow and fading sunlight onto the floor. Depa rested in bed, eyes closed, though the back of her bed had been raised into a sitting position. He made it to her side when she sighed and her eyes slowly started to flutter open and focused on him.
He all but fell into the chair by her bedside at the sound of her cracked voice; made hoarse by years of disuse.
Mace took her hand in his and was surprised by the sting of tears that threatened the corners of his eyes.
"Three…years. They …told me."
He nodded, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "All I wanted was for you to wake up."
"I'm here now." She smiled lightly. "I could feel…you, here…with me. Calling to…me. I couldn't…find you. I tried."
"But you finally did."
"I found…a spark. The Force it…was ablaze. Lit like…a beacon… I followed it. It was strong…angry…in pain…I recognized those…feelings."
The breath left Mace's body like he'd been sucker punched. He knew then what had been strong enough to light up a path for Depa to follow back home. He remembered the Force trembling, he remembered trying not to flinch and recoil as it roared.
It was Anakin's rage and uniquely strong presence in the Force that had awoken Depa from her coma. He remembered how the very air around them seemed to vibrate, the pressure against his mental shields, the way the trees around them threatened to snap. He was a force of nature, and that one moment of him almost losing control was enough to call Depa back from the darkness.
And it was now one more thing Mace personally owed to Anakin Skywalker. He had cleaned up their mess with the Sith, and he had also unknowingly brought Depa back to them. The Jedi, and Mace himself, owed Anakin Skywalker everything.
"I have so much to tell you," said Mace.
He squeezed her hand and this time, after all these years – she squeezed back.
Shmi Skywalker watched the stars streak by as her head rested against the cool window. In her arms she hugged a stuffed ewok closer to her chest. It might have been silly, bringing a stuffed toy for a son who was a man now and no longer a child but… it was the thought. Some things she could never give to him, with how they lived on Tatooine. She'd tried her best to sew things for him and they always contained all her love. But he'd never had anything nice or new. He was still her baby, no matter how old he was or how tall he must have grown. It was the thought that counted.
She blinked quickly and looked up to stare at the ceiling, willing away the tears. After all these years… the day she had dreamed of for a decade had finally come to pass. Mr. Kenobi's message had felt surreal, like a dream come true, like it couldn't be real. After her heart had stopped pounding, and after she had calmed herself, she had gone to find Master Jinn's comm number. He had left it for her when they first met, when he had made his promise to her.
"So they've contacted you," said Qui-Gon. His voice was tinny and far away but Shmi thought she could hear relief in his voice.
"Is it true? Is my son with this man?"
"Yes, he is. The Council learned that he was on Bandomeer with Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of our AgriCorps members."
"Anakin's safe there?"
"As safe as he can be. I knew Obi-Wan briefly as a child, but never as a man. From what I've heard though, Anakin is very protective of him which can only speak positively about him."
Shmi felt like she could breathe easier after such an admission. Anakin grew protective only of those he felt deeply for. And if Mr. Kenobi could earn her son's protectiveness and trust, after whatever he had been through after they were separated, then she could trust him too. She could feel a weight lift off her shoulders, knowing that her son was in a good place.
"Thank you, Master Jinn. Truly. I had to be sure."
"Go to your son, Shmi. I wish you all well. Until next time."
She took a deep breath and broke from her thoughts. She felt lighter being able to get through to Master Jinn and confirm where her son was and with whom. That it wasn't some joke, some farce, some trick. She sometimes felt that the Jedi could have contacted her as well about her son's location, but instead they decided to give the information to her son and his…? Friend?
They had to be friends. Or had become friends after Anakin's…purchase? Freedom? When did they meet? And what led Anakin into Republic space - to Bandomeer, a world that served the Jedi Order. Where did Mr. Kenobi find her son? She had so many questions, but now she would finally have the answers. To search for so long, and to now come to her journey's end… It still didn't feel real. It was like she was dreaming her most longed for dream. But in those dreams, Anakin was still a boy just reaching his teen years, and the times where she dreamed of him as a man, she could never see him, never make out his features. He was always just out of reached, lost in a haze.
She leaned her head back into the seat's headrest.
She'd looked up the world, and almost cried after realizing how close Anakin had been. The planet was on a direct flight path of the Hydian Way trade route, the same route that passed Alderaan. Anakin was a handful of planets away. Of all the places he could have ended up in the galaxy, he might as well have been on her doorstep.
She startled and looked up towards C-3PO. How she didn't hear his footsteps against the metal floors was proof of how lost to her thoughts she was.
"We're to be arriving shortly. Are you as excited to see Master Anakin again after all these years as I am? He might not recognize me with my coverings."
Shmi smiled. "He'll recognize you Threepio. I have no doubt."
"Oh. I do hope so. It's been too long."
Owen had offered to come with her, but Shmi had declined and asked him to stay with Cliegg. It was something she felt she had to do alone. It hadn't sat well with Cliegg, ever the worrier, but taking C-3PO with her had been his concession. Shmi would have at least one member of the family with her, while she brought the last missing piece home. As the ship exited hyperspace, her gaze turned towards the blue and brown planet that held her son.
"I am perfectly happy to pilot this vehicle for you -"
"It's fine, Threepio. I enjoy it," said Shmi.
And she did love it. Speeding down the faded road towards her destination, Shmi let the winds settle around her and just drove. It gave her something to focus on, something to calm the butterflies fluttering around around deep in her stomach. She had found solace in speeders, which was the oddest of things, but she did. After learning to drive on Naboo, she would just go wherever the roads took her on her time off. Just driving, and on empty old roads, she would push the speeds as high as she could, just to feel alive. To feel closer to Anakin.
Whenever Watto would enter Anakin in the Pod races, her heart would sink and she would worry. She'd seen the crashes, she knew what could happen; but oh, how Anakin had loved it. How exhilarated he was, how his eyes lit up but only to dim every time he lost. Was it the speed, the thrill, the freedom? Either way, she had started to understand his obsession with it.
The air was crisp and clear here. It felt like a peaceful world, quiet and sleepy in a way.
Take the northern pass, they told her, the house on the hill, overlooking the sea.
There. In the distance.
She took a deep breath and steadied her clammy hands on the wheel, pushing the speeder faster.
"This is over the speed limit, I'm sure," said C-3PO.
"Just a bit."
The home was small, humble. She could see a neat garden curving around the left side of the house. Waves sounded in the distance, and salt in the air, she could only imagine how Anakin must have felt with an ocean on his doorstep. From space, half the planet was covered by water, such a contrast to the never-ending sands of Tatooine.
Taking a breath, she exited the hover vehicle and started to make her way up the path to the front door. She hadn't made it half way when the door to the house opened. She stood rooted on the spot, heart leaping into her throat.
"Mr. Kenobi, hello," she managed to get out of her closing throat.
"Please, just Obi-Wan," he said approaching her, and holding out his hand.
"Hello!" greeted Threepio stepping in front of Shmi. "My name is C-3PO, Human-Cyborg Relations. We've come on a journey to find Master Anakin."
Obi-Wan chuckled and took a step back. "You're Anakin's protocol droid."
Threepio seemed to start. "He's spoken of me?"
"With great fondness."
"Oh, Bless The Maker. Is he inside? I will find him for us," he said wandering off towards the house.
"I'm sorry about him," said Shmi taking Obi-Wan's hand in both of hers.
"Don't be," said Obi-Wan smiling. "Anakin appears to build droids with quirky personalities. I'm familiar with his work."
Shmi smiled widely, happy tears starting to build in her eyes. "He's built another one?"
"Well…on a much smaller scale. A rogue vacuum bot with a taste for socks."
"That sounds like something he would build," she said. "Thank you. I know I've said it before but I wanted to say it again in person too."
"You don't have to thank me. I'm glad you've both finally found each other again."
"Where was he? Where did you find him?"
"Tatooine. I was there to retrieve a shipment and lost my way. I came upon him and brought him here. It was the will of the Force."
Shmi closed her eyes tightly and placed a hand on her heart. "He was still there all this time. I searched for him. I went back every year and I could never find him."
"You've found him now."
"Where-" She looked past his shoulder at the house, but Obi-Wan gestured to a small trail leading down the hill.
"Follow the path. You'll find him by the water."
Shmi gave his hand one last squeeze and went to find her son.
Anakin matched his breathing with the ebb and flow of the tide. In - as the waves rushed towards him, breaking on the sand, and out - when they were swept back out. Over and over, in and out, ebb and flow. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting on the beach, but it was long enough for the sun to start to set. Dusk would be upon him soon, deep blues and purples would replace the sleepy orange and red that slowly started to paint the sky.
Soft steps shifted the sand behind him, too light to be Obi-Wan's, that meant…
With a slow inhale, he scrubbed his hand over his face and stood on shaky legs. It was as if they were made from the water in front of him. Her voice… So clear, and perfect, and her… To hear her so close was so much better than hearing it through a holo light years away, better than any memory…the memory of her voice had faded over time. But now… now it all came back to him. Turning around, Anakin finally found himself face to face with his mother. Ten years of pain, ten years of loneliness and longing. Ten years of wanting to be back in her arms again. Ten long, awful years away from the one person in the galaxy that loved him more than anything. Ten years and it all came crashing down.
Tears streamed down his face as he took in the sight of her. Her hands went from her mouth to her heart and back, tears in her eyes and a smile on her face as she looked at him.
"Anakin. My Anakin…"
The moment she started towards him, his legs gained back their strength and in a stride he was in front of her, pulling her into his arms. She was solid and soft, her hair smelled like flowers.
Shmi laughed wetly into his chest, as her arms tightened around his back. His tears fell into her hair, as he tried to pull her closer. Anakin felt warm. For the first time in so long, he was warm. The warmth that Obi-Wan gave him was far different than this. Beautiful and special in its own way, but this… this was his mother. He could feel the hole in his heart close, as he finally held its missing piece in his arms. He could finally truly heal. With her by his side he could do anything.
Is this peace? He thought, feeling lighter than air. Is this what peace feels like?
"Let me look at you," said Shmi, slowly pulling back. He barely let her go, but it was enough for her hands to cup his face. She ran her hands along his cheeks, his forehead, his nose, his chin. Her eyes lingered on the scar bisecting his eyebrow, before running her thumb on the raised skin beneath his eye.
"Oh, Anakin." Her hands ran down his neck and settled on his shoulders, broadened by time. "You've grown so much. I missed so much."
"You're here now."
She nodded. "I'm here." Pulling him back towards her and holding him tight, she repeated with all the finality and firmness she could. "I'm here."
"I love you. I love you so much, mom."
He could feel her tears through his tunic, as she hiccupped. "I love you more than the stars. I knew in my heart that I would see you again. I never gave up. I searched, Ani. I looked and I looked but I couldn't find you. I'm sorry I couldn't find you."
A sob forced itself from his chest before he could stop it. She'd tried… she'd tried…
Her arms tightened around him again, and he could feel the unconditional love deep in her embrace. The way she held him close, the surety he felt that nothing would come between them again. For a moment he felt twelve years old again, before the auction, before Watto's death, where the safest place in the world was in his mother's arms. That nothing could touch him as long as she held onto him.
Her grip loosened slightly and she rubbed his back gently as they both let themselves cry in relief, in happiness, in near disbelief that they had finally found each other after a decade of separation.
"I knew it had been a year when everyone started talking about the Boonta Eve Classic."
"Did you ever race again, after? Cliegg and I made it to some of them. I always hoped I would see you. That maybe you had been entered. It was the first time I ever wished for you to enter one."
A small smile played on Anakin's lips. "That's a first."
Anakin shook his head. "I never raced again after Watto…"
Shmi sighed. "If Watto hadn't disappeared… or if Calda had just taken us instead."
"Watto was murdered." Anakin winced as Shmi looked at him wide-eyed. He could have been less blunt about it, but the words had just tumbled out of his mouth.
"Murdered? He was many things, but he didn't deserve that."
"No, he didn't… he… had something…someone else wanted and he wouldn't sell it. They killed him for it, but lost it anyway when Calda sold everything so…"
"They found his killer then?"
Anakin's eye twitched as he tried not to shudder, trying to ignore memories of Dejiak. He never wanted to think of him again. Not of his touch, his reddening face as Anakin choked him, or of his dead eyes staring into nothing, his neck twisted and broken…
"Yeah. Eventually. He paid for what he did."
Shmi squeezed his arm as he shook himself out of his thoughts and they resumed their walk along the beach. The sun had lowered and cast purple and blues across the sand.
"So Cliegg…" started Anakin. "How did you meet him?"
"He was a moisture farmer on Tatooine," said Shmi, smiling. "I met him during one of my searches for you. He'll tell you it was love at first sight for him, but I did not share the sentiment."
"Too busy looking for me."
"You were all that mattered."
"Nothing, in a way. Finding you was always going to be my priority. At one point I was ready to move back to Tatooine and search until I brought you home. A good friend of mine was worried for my safety, for my sanity even. It felt like I was betraying you though, that I was living while you were out there, still lost."
Anakin leaned over and kissed her forehead. "No. Your friend was right. You would have been in danger on Tatooine, and we both know it. It was a hard life. That world leaves its scars on everyone," he said. "When I first realized you were married, I was so happy. It meant you were safe, that someone loved you. It meant that you were okay."
"Did the Jedi tell you?"
"In a way." Anakin swallowed and looked out at the ocean. "How'd he win you over then?"
"He helped me look for you, in whatever way he could. He put my search for you above his feelings for me, and never made me feel like less for being unable to return them. He helped me without expecting anything in return. And eventually, I fell in love with him – with how gentle he was, how kind. There is so much love in his heart."
"And you, Ani? In all these years…"
He could see it in her eyes, on the tip of her tongue to ask him where he'd been all this time. He begged the Force to let the question die on her lips. To not ask. It was a question he wasn't ready to answer, he didn't have anything else to tell her anyway. No clever lie, or certain point of view truth. Nothing to offer her but pain. He got his wish, when she pursed her lips and seemingly swallowed the question, her smile returning to her mouth and her eyes, as she took his hand in her left. He squeezed her hand and thanked the Force, but deep down, a small part of him told him that she already knew. That she suspected where he ended up. That there was a reason he was kept out of her reach, after years of searching. Someone like her looking around… she would have ended up blacklisted from the brothels, or worse.
He wasn't ready to talk about it, and if she knew then she must have sensed it in some capacity from him and decided to let it lie for now. One day he would be able to talk about it, but for now… he couldn't give her the burden of that truth.
"I'm happy now," he said. "With you, with Obi-Wan."
"Obi-Wan… he seems like a kind man. It's there in his eyes. He said the Force willed him to find you?"
"He got pushed along by the crowds and ended up in the market by accident. And he bought me."
"Did he tell you why? Since he wasn't there for slaves."
"I was a bright spot in the Force. He could sense me because I'm Force Sensitive. My reflexes and speed in the podracing, my intuition… if I'd been found as a baby, the Jedi would have taken me. Obi-Wan's been training me in the basics."
"I always knew you were special."
He squeezed her hand in his, and turned them back the way they came.
"We should get back. The light will be gone soon and I'm sure Obi-Wan has dinner ready by now."
"I've also left your friend with Threepio too long."
"Threepio?" Anakin's head whipped to the side, his smile was blinding. "He's here? You found him?"
"He'd ended up with some Jawas. I bought him back."
Anakin laughed, his eyes shining. "I can't believe it."
"I finished him. He has plating now, and is worried you won't recognize him."
"Yeah, that sounds like him. I wonder if he's met S0-X yet."
"Ah, your 'rogue vacuum bot'."
Anakin smiled. "That's the one. Obi-Wan's mentioned him, I see."
"And how did this come about?"
"I wanted to do something nice for Obi-Wan, so I made him a vacuum bot to help around the house. Little guy tries his best."
"It is the thought that counts."
"It's mostly my socks he's eating though. I can never get them to the laundry hamper."
"You never could."
"Please tell Obi-Wan that. Let him know this is an on-going thing."
Shmi's eyebrow rose. "You share a laundry hamper with your…friend?"
"I-" Anakin's brain halted, and he was desperately glad for the encroaching darkness that hid his blush. "We're. He and…I-"
Shmi let go of his hand and wrapped her arm around her son's waist, pulling him into a side hug. "I'm not the only one who found love then, am I?"
She continued to laugh at his embarrassed sputtering, letting the joy she felt echo against the cliffside and across the beach.
Perhaps she had found two sons this day, instead of one.
A/N: Thank you for your lovely comments and support. Each one means a lot to me. We're almost there everyone. One chapter to go.