Ripples in a Pond

Title: Ripples in a Pond
Plot, or Lack Thereof: The World’s Unluckiest Self Insert mucks about with the Star Wars prequel continuity.
Reason for Banishment: Weak characterization, overpowered self-insert.


0. Prelude

[ Ciel’s backstory doesn’t fill out until later, with bits being revealed throughout the plot that explains a lot about her abilities and personality: basically, she was sold as a sex slave at a very tender age and escaped a fate worse than death when Dooku was sent over on a diplomatic mission. Yeah, real original. ]

Yoda smoothed down the sleeping girl’s hair, drawing back now that she was once again unconscious. Beside him, Count Dooku watched in anxious silence, unable to read his master’s feelings at all.

“Agree with you, I do,” Yoda said at last, looking like he was feeling every single one of his nine hundred plus years. “Send her away, I shall not. Suffered enough, she has.” He paused, contemplating the girl again. “Worry not, my old Padawan. Trained, she will be. With the Jedi, her future is.”

[ And here there’d be a scene of Qui-Gon meeting Ciel and being “saddled” with her, a mission or three, Count Dooku becoming one of the Lost Twenty, Xanatos, etc. ]

***

I. Phantom

“So, how do I look?”

Qui-Gon turned and had just enough conscious thought left to close his mouth. No matter how many times he saw Ciel with her hair down, he couldn’t help staring. Her stance, her body language, the lilt in her voice—even without handwaving she could convince just about anyone that she was a different person. “You’re pulling out all the stops, aren’t you?”

“Well, of course. Master Yoda would never let me hear the end of it if he heard I was scouting the potentials before I was supposed to meet them.” She gave herself one last glance in the full-length mirror and drew a shawl around her shoulders.

Qui-Gon shrugged. “He thinks taking a Padawan should be a matter of Destiny.”

Ciel rolled her eyes. “What the Jedi Council calls Destiny is what everybody else would calls Hindsight.”

“Perhaps.” But it felt better to think of the past as something he could not have changed, no matter how hard he tried.

Ciel’s gaze softened. “Master Yoda was right about you, though. The only way to stop living in the past is to move forward. Come with me to the Acadamy tomorrow.”

Qui-Gon shook his head. “I’m not ready yet.”

“Suit yourself,” Ciel sighed.

***

Obi-Wan gave the dark-haired woman who approached the Chapel the best bow that he could manage. “Sorry about the wait, ma’am, but tomorrow’s a big day for the Academy and everybody’s busy getting busy.”

“I’m in no hurry.” The lady followed Obi-Wan’s lead into the front of the Chapel. She dipped low in a curtsey before kneeling at a pew. “I’ll be all right here by myself. I’m sure you’re busy as well.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “I’ve done all my chores already. And besides—”

She looked up at him. “Besides?”

“Nothing.”

“Very well.”

They waited in silence like this for what felt like an eternity, the woman kneeling and Obi-Wan standing beside her. At last he could not contain himself and asked: “So, what brings you to the Chapel?”

“Memories.”

“Do you,” Obi-Wan bit his lip for a moment, unsure of why he felt drawn to this woman, “want to talk about it?”

“Are you to be my confessor, then, young one?” Her tone was light but not jesting, and they brought warmth to Obi-Wan’s cheeks.

“Oh, no, I’m not even a Padawan learner yet.” And at this thought, Obi-Wan felt a small sting of disappointment. “And I might not ever be.”

“Do you want to be one?”

“It’s what I’ve spent my whole life preparing for, but—everybody says I’m too old, too rash,” Obi-Wan’s voice had dropped down to a whisper now. “Not good enough, never good enough, never amount to anything.”

The woman’s gentle hand brushed away the tears that formed at the edge of his eyes. “Do you really believe that, young one?”

“I’m not supposed to.” Obi-Wan drew in a shakey, ragged breath. “I don’t want to.”

“Then believe in the Force, young one.” She lent him her handkerchief. “Believe that the Force will guide your future, and that the future holds no darkness for you, no matter what happens.”

Obi-Wan blew his nose. “I’ll try.”

The woman smiled. “Isn’t there some sort of ancient Jedi saying about that?”

***

Yoda was not surprised at Ciel’s choice; she had always been a woman of extraordinary compassion, and often befriended those that others might have been more inclined to write off as lost causes. He fixed his gaze at the young Kenobi boy, who still didn’t seem to believe that he was standing before the Jedi Council as a potential Padawan learner. “Poor, your studies have been,” Yoda chided, causing the boy’s gaze to drop.

“He’s gotten bad marks because he doesn’t necessarily follow along with the prescribed ‘correct’ answer,” Ciel pointed out. “When it comes to actual ability, he’s easily at the top of his class.”

“There’s also the matter of his personality,” Mace Windu now spoke up. “Regardless of the exceptions the Council has made regarding the age issue, he is old enough that he should have better handle on his focus and self-discipline, and his social skills leave much to be desired.”

Ciel placed a hand on Obi-Wan’s trembling shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “All the more reason to train him, don’t you think?”

“Determined to take him as a Padawan you are?” Yoda asked after a long silence.

Ciel’s answer was instantaneous. “Are you determined to reject him?”

Mace waited for Yoda to give him unspoken permission before answering: “What about Qui-Gon? He has to stop blaming himself sooner or later.”

“I’ll still be accompanying Qui-Gon on his missions, won’t I?” Ciel asked. “It’d hardly be fair to make Obi-Wan wait any longer.”

Yoda contemplated the boy again. With Ciel’s help, his thoughts had quieted, but a Yoda could still detect a slight undertone of worry and self-doubt. “Afraid are you, Obi-Wan, that a Jedi you will not be?”

“I can’t say it wouldn’t bother me, but—” Obi-Wan drew in a breath. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world, either.”

The boy had already began to accept the prospect of a future apart from the Jedi Council, and though his heart broke at the idea, he did not allow his grief to consume him or draw him to the Dark Side. Yoda nodded. “Then your first test you have passed. Congratulations, Padawan Kenobi.”

***

(Several years later.)

Qui-Gon smiled and shook his head as he watched Obi-Wan attempt to shut his bulging suitcase by leaping on it. “Give it up, Obi-Wan. You’ll just have to learn to pack lighter.”

“But Master Ciel says we’ll be away a lot longer than we expect! Don’t you think we should be prepared?” Nonetheless, Obi-Wan let the top fall open again and removed about half of his self-imposed burden.

“Don’t take anything extra for me, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon remarked, looking over Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “I don’t need another set of clothes.”

“Last time you said that, you ended up with leeches in your underwear,” Ciel laughed, shouldering a small backpack and wearing a simple peasant’s dress modeled after the clothing worn on Naboo, the destination of their next mission. “How do I look?”

“Like a native.” Qui-Gon himself carried nothing more than his lightsaber; experience taught him that he could find just about everything else he needed on site with some improvisation—and Obi-Wan did have a tendency to take enough things for all three of them anyway. “And I doubt we’ll be slogging through any swamps this time.”

“You never know,” Obi-Wan and Ciel answered at the same time, the former serious and the latter teasing.

Qui-Gon chuckled. “What, do you have another one of your ‘bad feelings’, Obi-Wan? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that you were an eternal pessimist.”

“Better to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised, don’t you think?” Obi-Wan countered, stubborn as ever.

“I prefer to believe that the universe is not out to get me.”

“You two will just have to agree to disagree,” Ciel interrupted. “We have a flight to catch, remember?”

***

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stepped off the transport and was greeted by their hosts, a fellow whose insincerity was so blatant that he reminded Obi-Wan of one of Master Ciel’s quips: “How does one tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving.”

Meanwhile, Master Ciel had already slipped into the crowd carrying herself like a servant. Few paid her much mind, and when she disappeared out of sight she was all but forgotten. Obi-Wan sent her a quiet well-wishing; though she didn’t answer, as not to catch the attention of anyone else who might be sensitive to the Force—one could never be too careful, that was something both of them agreed on—he knew that she would appreciate his sentiment.

Hearing Qui-Gon clear his throat, Obi-Wan snapped to attention, squaring his shoulders and bringing his chin up. Remembering the lessons Master Ciel had taught him about body language, he looked the ambassadors straight in the eye and gave them a thin smile. Qui-Gon bore a similar stance, but he softened his expression somewhat, giving the mistaken impression that he was the kinder of the two. “Good day, gentlemen. I am Qui-Gon Jinn and this is Obi-Wan Kenobi. We are here by the will of the Republic and the blessing of the Jedi Council to discuss the—” he allowed the pause to linger in the air for a moment, and the two standing across from him began to lean forward almost without realizing it, “—unpleasant situation that has befallen Naboo.”

Obi-Wan caught the slight tilt in Qui-Gon’s head and smiled wider. Now it was his turn. “Yes, it would be most unfortunate if the Trade Federation is indeed engaging in an illegal blockade.”

The taller of the two aliens began to sweat. “What we are doing here is perfectly legal, perfectly.” But the tremor in his voice and the darting of his gaze told Obi-Wan that the alien was attempting to hide the truth, and his Force-senses confirmed this.

“That remains to be seen,” Qui-Gon remarked, letting the slightest bit of ice creep into his tone now.

The two aliens shared a look that screamed trouble before the shorter one spoke. “Oh, where are my manners? You must be exhausted from your trip. Come, let us talk where we can be more comfortable.”

***

More comfortable, my foot, Qui-Gon thought as he pressed against the wall of the transport, sandwiched between crates. He couldn’t decide which was worse: that he was forced to flee in a most undignified manner, that he was now posing as the cargo of an illegal invasion, or that Ciel, as usual, expected something like this to happen, and let him go careening headfirst into danger. Then again, I’ve never been that good at listening to her.

A slight tremor signaled planetfall and the beginning of countless horrors. Already Qui-Gon could feel the lives of many winking out around him, a grim chorus of staccato screams.

He caught sight of Obi-Wan, already wriggling free towards the open door, and made a signal to move into the underbrush. He nodded, jaw set.

Three. Two. One.

Now!

He hit the ground rolling, a split-second behind Obi-Wan, and he was glad that the younger man had already darted between some trees and did not see him stumble. At the edge of his peripheral vision, he saw one of the natives get run down by the rolling tanks thundering across the dirt path and winced.

I once would have taken up my lightsaber and hacked away at all these monstrosities until they were all cut to pieces. Qui-Gon shook his head. Ciel was right. I am getting old. He followed Obi-Wan, pulling further and further from the battle. But not too old to stop living life the way I always have just yet.

***

Padme bit her lip and reminded herself to keep playing servant as she and her entourage were herded through the ruined courtyard towards the dungeons. Until her captors had determined where the Queen was, the hired help was still useful enough to keep alive. For the moment she was in the hands of emotionless mechanical creations who did nothing more than push her when she wasn’t fast enough for their liking, but Padme knew that worse treatment was not far ahead.

This one is but a humble maidservant who does nothing but scrub the floors of the Palace all day long, she repeated like a mantra. This one is nothing, far beneath the mighty conquerors of Naboo. The words left a bitter taste in her mouth, but her survival—and with her, the legitimate Naboo government—hinged on being ignored.

A sudden stop brought her attention back to her surroundings. The droids had found life-signs lurking nearby and dispatched two of the guards to investigate.

Padme could not hold back her curiosity. The courtyard had been one of the first areas that were seized—Padme ordered the defenders to fall back herself, knowing that the area was far too large and open to be secured by their feeble numbers. Who in the world could have slipped past the armaments?

The silence was maddening. For the umpteenth time that day, Padme wished that she could understand the droids’ clicks and beeps. She eyed Commander Panaka, and he gave her a look that indicated they should be ready to drop to the floor in case a firefight broke out.

But nothing happened—not at first, anyway. The dispatched droids returned, and their captors moved on—without their prisoners. Padme stared, gaping, but the droids paid her no mind. It was as if the droids had forgotten that she was even there.

“That actually worked! I can’t believe it.”

Padme’s head snapped up and found herself staring again as a young man dressed in odd robes emerged from a balcony above, followed by a taller, older man wearing similar clothes. “And that is why Ciel is the master and you are still the apprentice, Obi-Wan,” the man answered. “Remember well what you have learned today.”

“And if you don’t, I’ll be sure to rub it in.” A third person appeared from an alleyway behind her, a woman dressed in a bland Naboo gown. This woman caught Padme’s questioning gaze and smiled, hurrying up to the group and helping them out of their restraints. “Hello. We are the Jedi that have been sent to investigate the situation. I am Ciel Anders.” She indicated the older man, who was still canvassing the area for further threats. “That is Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and—” she rolled her eyes when she saw the younger one somersault down with a graceful flip, “that reckless little showoff over there is Obi-Wan Kenobi, my apprentice.”

“I have to keep my skills sharp, Master,” Obi-Wan protested, handing Ciel her lightsaber. “You’ve just showed me how useful even the most boring of lessons can be.”

Ciel crossed her arms. “And I also seem to remember telling you that your little stunt serves no purpose whatsoever other than to put yourself into unnecessary danger.”

Padme watched them in thoughtful silence. She could detect no falseness in their interactions, and so far the Trade Federation hadn’t shown any subtleties in their actions, punching through Naboo’s feeble defenses with a show of brutal force, attempting to force their way into owning the planet. Still, for the time being she was not ready to trust her rescuers with all her secrets. She gave Captain Panaka a tiny nod, and he spoke for her. “We thank you, Jedi, but our welfare means little if the Queen cannot be rescued. She must be found at once and given passage to Coruscant.”

Ciel nodded. “Of course. But I feel that she is safe enough, for the time being. First we must find a place where you can take refuge.”

Obi-Wan blinked at this. “They can’t come with us?”

Ciel shook her head. “We’ll have enough trouble getting ourselves off the planet.” Her gaze went to the group. “Is any one of you a pilot?”

“I am,” said Captain Panaka.

“Excellent. This means we won’t have to hitchhike, at least.” Ciel focused her attention on Padme next. “And I take it you’re one of the Palace’s maidservants.”

Padme remembered to lower her eyes and nod in silence.

“You’d know the Palace better than anyone else, then.”

Another nod.

“All right. You two clear the way, then meet up with me as soon as you can.” Ciel bowed and touched her forehead, and the other two Jedi mimicked the gesture. “May the Force be with you.”

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon echoed this blessing, and then just Captain Panaka, Padme, and Ciel were left in the couryard. Ciel pinned her long hair into an makeshift bun and drew her lightsaber, activating it in one elegant motion. Padme drew in a breath; now Ciel was the very picture of a Jedi Master who was not to be trifled with. “Shall we go save the Queen?” Ciel asked, smiling at Padme.

***

Obi-Wan looked up from the hyperdrive. “It’s hopeless, Master. Even the Galaxy’s greatest engineer isn’t going to save this hunk of junk.”

Ciel wiped her hands on the oilcloth. “Yes, I suspected as much, but we had to give it a shot. Not like we have anything better to do until Captain Panaka can find a stable enough place to land, anyway.”

Qui-Gon cracked an eye open. “I wasn’t aware that you didn’t consider meditation to be inferior to tinkering.”

“Unlike some people, I know how to multitask,” Ciel shot back, smiling. “What’s on your mind that’s got you emulating Master Yoda? I’ve never seen you sit still for this long.”

“I’ve been having premonitions so strong that they seem less like a passing sensation and more an actual certainty.” Qui-Gon resumed his musings. “Still, I haven’t been able to get anything specific.”

That made Ciel let out a most un-Jedi-like snort. “Since when has the Jedi way ever been more than a tangled mess of vague premonitions that we don’t figure out until it’s too late?” She got up and stretched, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “So I guess this means you’re not interested in a shopping expedition on Tatooine, then.”

“No, I will accompany you.” And now Qui-Gon rose as well, being careful not to bump his head against the engine room’s low ceiling. “There’s someone I am destined to meet down there, of that much I am sure.”

***

Padme continued to brush Sabe’s hair as Ciel entered and gave them both a low bow. “We’ll be landing on Tatooine momentarily, Your Majesty. Would you like to change into something more comfortable and accompany us while we go looking for a new hyperdrive?”

“That will not be necessary,” Sabe answered, still playing Queen. “The longer We tarry, the more dire the situation becomes.”

“I don’t expect us to be taking more than half a day, tops. Besides, I think you could use a break from playing Queen, even for the tiniest moment.”

Sabe sighed. “If only things were so simple.”

Ciel’s eyes twinkled. “Why don’t you give it a shot?” She looked Sabe up and down. “You look about Obi-Wan’s size. I’m sure he won’t mind lending you one of his extra outfits.”

While Sabe pondered, Padme nudged her elbow, hoping to communicate some sense of her desire to go out. After the last few days’ ordeal, the last thing she wanted was to be cooped up on her ship. “Will it be safe?” Sabe asked at long last.

Ciel shrugged. “As safe as you can be around three Jedi.”

She’s kidding, right? That didn’t answer the question at all! Padme wondered, but soon realized the meaning behind Ciel’s words. Of course—the Jedi are our protectors, so their presence could attract trouble as well.

Sabe voiced Padme’s sentiments, having guessed what they were. “You have a strange sense of humor, Master Ciel.”

Ciel’s smile widened. “You have no idea.”

***

Obi-Wan blinked against the harsh light, trying to find Qui-Gon, who had marched ahead at an almost supernatural pace, as if he was being pulled towards somewhere. Beside him, Queen Amidala and her lady-in-waiting Padme—and now that they were dressed in a similar manner, he found it difficult to tell them apart—walked in regal silence, their faces showing no signs of being bothered by the baking desert heat. “I’ve lost him,” he sighed.

“Can’t you use the Force to find him?” Padme—or at least Obi-Wan assumed she was Padme given her soft voice and lack of accent—asked. During the trip, he had found the otherwise reticent young woman quite curious about the Jedi, and he’d done his best to explain what he knew.

“It’d depend on whether he wants to be found right now. Besides, Master Ciel doesn’t like it when I rely too much on the Force.”

This surprised Padme. “Why not?”

“I think it’s because she didn’t become a Padawan learner until a lot later in life. She believes that the traditional Jedi ways are too insular. She’s always telling me—” Obi-Wan drew himself up in imitation of Master Ciel. “The Force is no substitute for plain old common sense.”

“And that, my young Padawan, is something you still need work on,” Master Ciel finished, coming up from another street.

Padme tittered, and even the Queen looked amused, hiding a smile behind her hand. “Hello, Master Ciel! Did you happen to pass Master Qui-Gon on your way here?”

“I’m afraid not, but there aren’t too many places where we need to go looking for him.” She handed each of them a small handful of bills and coinage. “Don’t go spending it all at once, now.”

“Local currency?” Obi-Wan studied the strange symbols. “Wouldn’t they take Republic credits?”

“Yes, but these are worth more here, and not nearly as traceable.” Master Ciel winked. “Besides, they make good souvenirs.”

“You speak as if We are tourists on a holiday,” the Queen remarked, arching an eyebrow.

“Take a look around. None of the natives are out at this time of day, except for the unfortunate errand runner or droid. If that doesn’t make us blatant tourists, I don’t know what does.” Master Ciel paused and pointed to a small building in the corner. “Ah, a parts shop. Let’s see if our wandering Jedi Master is there making a fool of himself trying to hand-wave his way into saving a few credits.”

***

Anakin watched the tall man from the corner of his eye. He couldn’t explain why, but he felt drawn to Watto’s newest customer in a way that was different from anyone else he’d ever met.

“Republic credits will suffice,” the man was saying, making a motion with his hand, and Anakin felt a corresponding brush against his mind like a gentle evening breeze.

Watto hesitated for a moment, then shook his head and scowled. “What do you think you are, some kind of Jedi? If you’re not going to make a serious deal, then go away!”

The man was about to dispute this accusation of frivolity when a woman that reminded Anakin of his mother entered the shop, shaking her head. “Honestly, Qui-Gon, no self-respecting Jedi would stoop to mind-tricks to get a good deal.” Some sort of unspoken signal must have passed through them then, because now the woman took charge of the situation. Qui-Gon’s gaze then went over to Anakin, but he just continued to tinker, pretending not to notice. While it tended to be Anakin’s knack for putting things back together that brought in the customers, Watto was particular about monopolizing the center of attention. It would be up to him to close the sale of the hardware and then offer up the service package.

“It’s settled, then!” Watto clapped his hands, his wings buzzing with glee. “Now, then, I’d like to recommend the best mechanic on all of Tatooine to make sure your new hyperdrive purrs like a kitten—Anakin!” That was his cue. Anakin got up from where he was sitting, being careful to put the fragile parts onto the counter so they would not be stepped on. He approached the group and bowed, keeping his head low. “Don’t let the youthful face fool you,” Watto continued, ruffling Anakin’s hair. “This boy was born to tinker. He could make a toaster fly if he had to.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Qui-Gon chimed in, examining Anakin’s handiwork. “He is extraordinarily gifted.”

“Qui-Gon, you’re not supposed to take the salesman’s side,” the woman chided. “As it is, we can barely afford the hyperdrive.”

“Don’t worry, I never charge up front for installation,” Watto reassured her. “Let Anakin work his magic and you can pay whatever you feel he deserves.”

The woman looked Anakin over, making him feel even more self-conscious. He was certain that nothing escaped her penetrating gaze. “All right, Anakin,” she replied after a long silence. “Show me what you’re made of.”

***

Even Obi-Wan could sense Qui-Gon’s giddiness as they watched Anakin fine-tune the new hyperdrive.

He is the One, Qui-Gon sent, broadcasting his thoughts to both Obi-Wan and Ciel in his excitement.

The what? Obi-Wan asked.

Ancient Jedi prophecy, the Chosen of the Force, bringer of Balance, blah blah blah. I’m not surprised Qui-Gon thinks this kid fits the bill. Master Ciel was equal parts amused and exasperated by Qui-Gon’s state of mind. You’ve noticed, too, haven’t you, Obi-Wan, how the he’s tapping into the Force almost without even being consciously aware of it?

Kind of hard not to. Obi-Wan, for his part, found Qui-Gon’s mood to be infectious; it helped that Anakin’s Force presence was so strong that he was almost like Tatooine’s third sun.

He is coming with us to Coruscant. Qui-Gon declared.

Easier said than done. Master Ciel’s expression turned somber. There aren’t many reasons a boy so young would be working in a job like this, and I’ve already blown our budget.

“He is coming with us,” Qui-Gon repeated, this time out loud.

Anakin jerked, almost dropping his tools. “P-please don’t joke like that, sir,” he whispered, his hands beginning to shake. “Master Watto only lets me leave the shop to do repairs and run errands.”

Obi-Wan caught the implication and felt a chill run through his spine. “But the Republic outlawed slavery ages ago!”

“The Republic has little reach here. Qui-Gon’s debacle over trying to use credits should have told you that.” Master Ciel’s voice had a sad, distant lilt to it. “Besides, slavery can still exist under a different name even within the Republic.”

Qui-Gon squatted down to Anakin so they were now eye to eye. “Watto can be convinced to let you go, I’m sure of it.”

Anakin shook his head. “Without me, Watto would go out of business.” His eyes went to the floor. “And my mom—”

He has a mother? Obi-Wan couldn’t help but think.

Master Ciel rolled her eyes. Of course he does. Did you think he sprang fully formed from the ground?

Qui-Gon pondered this for a moment. “We can make arrangements for your mother, as well.”

Master Ciel fixed Qui-Gon with an incredulous stare. You sure this can’t wait until after we get this other mess sorted out?

No time like the present.

This was when Padme came in with a tray bearing cups of water. “Compliments from the Queen,” she explained.

***

Anakin forgot everything else when he saw the young lady. He had been so preoccupied about Qui-Gon that he hadn’t quite noticed her in Watto’s shop, but now there was no missing her. She was beautiful, like something out of a fairy tale.

The other woman—the Jedi named Ciel—spoke up again. “Guess there’s no changing your mind about this, huh?” she asked Qui-Gon out loud; with the looks they had been shooting each other before, Anakin had a sneaking suspicion that they must have been communicating in some other fashion.

“He’s coming with us,” Qui-Gon stated a third time, and this time he sounded so sure of this fact that Anakin had to bite his lip from crying.

Ciel sighed again. “All right, but you better hope the Queen is amenable to a loan, because I’m not about to start an interplanet incident because you have some strange ideas about priorities.”

“This is my idea,” Qui-Gon objected. “I should take responsibility.”

Ciel shook her head. “No offense, Qui-Gon, but good social graces have never been your strong suit.”

/And I don’t want to hear what sort of harebrained idea you have for getting our used-parts salesman to part with his star mechanic./

Anakin blinked as Qui-Gon sputtered and Obi-Wan bit back a chuckle, and Ciel winked at him. He found himself smiling back. He decided that he liked her.

“The Queen is in her chambers, correct?” Ciel asked Padme. She nodded. “Great. I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear that even though we can’t bring slavery to an end on Tatooine, we’d at least be able to help two people.”

Again, Anakin’s ears tingled, and he strained to listen to what the Jedi were saying to each other, but this time he was not privy to their conversation. They just nodded to each other without a word, and then Qui-Gon and Ciel went to speak with the Queen. A few moments later, Obi-Wan mumbled some sort of excuse and left as well.

***

As Qui-Gon and Ciel had their discussion, Padme watched Anakin, wondering what it was about the boy that made the Jedi want to win his freedom. Then they left to speak with the Queen, and though Padme would have liked to follow behind she knew that Sabe would fill her in afterward, so she remained where she was.

Now it was just the two of them, Obi-Wan having gone to do something or other; Padme hadn’t quite caught what he said, and her focus was still on Anakin anyways. He began returning her gaze, and although he was too shy to look her straight in the eye Padme felt her heart go out to him nonetheless.

“Hello,” she greeted, smiling.

“Hello,” he stuttered back, torn between the desire to speak and the imperative that someone of his station should remain seen and not heard.

She closed the distance between them, sitting next to him. “I’m Padme. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.” He continued, no longer able to contain himself: “You’re very pretty.”

It was Padme’s turn to feel shy; she had often been complimented for her good looks by foreign dignitaries and members of her court, but this boy’s innocent, frank honesty made her blush. “Thank you.”

Having become more at ease, Anakin began peppering her with questions. “Where are you from?”

“Naboo.”

“Is that far away?”

“I guess so, since we had to travel for quite a while, but I’m not all that sure. I’ve never left my planet before.”

“Me, neither.” Here Anakin’s gaze dropped. “What’s going to happen to me now?”

“You’ll be free, at least.” Padme wanted to pull the boy into her arms and tell him that everything was going to be alright, but for the moment she knew even less of what might be going on than he did. “Don’t you want that?”

Anakin nodded. “More than anything. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do after that.”

“Well, you’re a wonderful mechanic,” Padme pointed out, causing the boy to look sheepish. “And there are places where you can rent on the cheap, or your mother could get paid to keep someone’s house.”

Anakin’s eyes widened. “People pay for that?”

“Sure. Lots of folks like to go on vacation and they need someone trustworthy to clean, keep the lights on, take the mail, water the plants, stuff like that.”

A light cough sounded from the door. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” Ciel began, the light smile on her face indicating that the meeting with ‘The Queen’ had gone well. “But I’m sure Anakin’s feeling a little confused as to what’s going on and I wanted to explain things to him.”

Padme nodded. “Of course.” She made the motion to get up, but Ciel indicated for her to stay put.

“Oh, don’t bother with the formalities. This won’t take long. And you have a right to know, too.” She squatted down to Anakin’s level and drew just close enough so that she could look him in the eye. “Anakin, have you ever known that something would happen before it did?”

“All the time,” Anakin answered, the warmth in Ciel’s voice causing him to lose his initial apprehension.

“That’s because your very strong in the Force,” Ciel explained further when he gave her a quizzical look. “The Force is sort of like—well, electricity, I suppose. All living beings generate it, but very few can sense it and even fewer can be trained in how to use it.”

“Is that what you do?” Anakin wanted to know. “Use the Force to help people, I mean.”

“Something like that,” Ciel agreed. “That’s why Qui-Gon wants to take you with us. He’d like to train you.”

Anakin stared. “Me?” He squeaked.

Ciel smiled wider. “Yes, Anakin, you.”

***

Of all those who had graced Watto’s shop, the human female Jedi won the distinction of being one of the few that could make him sweat.

She wanted him to free Anakin, and she wasn’t about to take ‘no’ as an answer.

She didn’t raise her voice or drop that infernal serene smile of hers once during the entire debate. She answered all of his objections in such a well thought out and logical manner that he was starting to run out of excuses.

It helped that the sum she was offering for the boy and his mother would be enough to get him off this bloody planet and retire in luxury. Stars, where did a Jedi get that kind of money?

“You are lucky that I’m in a bit of a hurry,” she told him. “Or otherwise I would resort to more extreme measures.”

[ Long story short, Ciel’s presence in the SW universe tempers the progression of Destiny somewhat—Qui-Gon survives Naboo, Shmi lives out a long life quietly as a housekeeper for Padme, Anakin has Ciel as an unofficial second master/mother-figure, Darth Tyrannus plays both sides against the middle instead of being full-out evil, etc. She passes away somewhere between the second and third movies, and her apprentice Samui becomes part of the Anakin/Padme/Obi-Wan relationship polygon.]

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