Chapter 19. Guardian, the End
The detonation is a heavy hand that plucks the children from mid-sprint and flings them far and hard into the concrete floor. His supernatural gift is the only saving grace that stops their bones from shattering on the impact. The small boy twists mid-air, and miraculously slows his own descent. It is a difficult feat and he achieves it poorly but it saves his life and the life of the little one he carries. Barely seconds after the impact, his breath still lodged in his chest, he turns round, this time placing her beneath him and the rain of shrapnel broke over him.
He welcomes the showering. The child is his purpose, the only shield against the tiny bombs of panic that threaten to explode in his brain.
The Grand Master… His own Master… The Guardian… Their charge… The little girl…
“Sola!” cries the child beneath him and her tiny body wriggles to do the instinctive but suicidal race back to the demolished building. He tightens his grip on her but she remains rebellious. “Sola!”
“Shush,” he whispers - a poor attempt at comfort that is rewarded by a look of such hatred as only a child can wield. There is no restraint in the small hands that strike his face. In her mind, he is accountable for this destruction.
He is besieged on all fronts. His mind within him. Her violent beating beneath him. And from above, the rain of shrapnel…
…had long since ended. The bounty hunter’s ship was a fading glow on the platform. The Jedi moved stealthily by the light of their blades.
“We have to leave soon,” Xanatos murmured as Padmé climbed slowly to her feet from her perch by the Sith. “Any moment now, the scan-droids will be rising to this level.”
The Sith lay sprawled on the ground, the fearsome creature subdued - for the moment. The vial filed with clear liquid that had so effectively subdued him rested carelessly in Padmé’s hand. She herself stood above him, looking down with an inscrutable expression on her face.
“Definitely,” Obi-Wan said, moving forward to place his arm on the Guardian’s waist in the nick of time. She had swayed where she stood. “You and Asajj, carry - him to our vessel.”
Asajj shot him a very dirty look but she complied. Holding her sabre aloft in one hand to illuminate their path, she and Xanatos lifted the Sith between them. As they carried him to their vessel, Kenobi noted with some amusement that Asajj left most of the burden on Xanatos’s side, clearly determined to touch as little of the Force-forsaken creature as she could.
Padmé’s eyes followed them as well. “You did the right thing,” she said softly.
Obi-Wan smiled. She was no Jedi but her intuition sometimes surpassed even the Grand Master himself. “It doesn’t really matter. There will be plenty to correct my mistake where we’re taking him.”
“The Grand Master?” she asked rhetorically.
“Who else?” Obi-Wan retorted.
She chuckled softly and winced, suddenly feeling the ache in her jaw where Fett had struck her. The ache in all her bones…
“Hey,” Obi-Wan said, his grip tightening. His other arm went round her and his large weathered hand…
… guides the small, soft palm over the distorted terrain. Motion pauses and then - then - a small quake, beneath her fingers. Two pairs of brown eyes lock with mutual delight.
“I think he likes you!” The woman says with a tremor of excitement that rings strangely in her world-weary voice. But there is no denying the simple joy in her smile as she bestows it on the little angel by her side.
“Certainly, he should,” this little angel retorts primly but her characteristically stern expression falters a little at the delightful feel of the small life kicking against her palm. Despite her determination not to be charmed, the little girl’s face glows.
The woman laughs, reaches over to touch…
… her soft brown curls, gently smoothing them behind her ears.
“Are you OK?” Obi-Wan whispered softly, for the first time really looking at the cut on her lip, her bruised jaw, her general dishevelled and badly-used appearance. “What did they do to you?”
She sighed, tucking herself into his shoulder. “A lot less than what I did to him. I killed him, Obi-Wan.”
“It was self-defence,” he said at once, protecting her even from herself.
Was it? she asked herself. In her mind, she knew the answer. I was never in any danger from the bounty hunter.
Still she leaned against her old friend and let herself draw support from his concern and from his strength - both literally and figuratively. Now that she was finally safe, her body was allowing itself to feel the trauma of her skirmish with Jango Fett - who she killed! Killed! - and the trauma of the hours in captivity. Her legs were so weak, she could barely stand; she was resting completely on Obi-Wan who was injured himself.
“Are you OK?” she asked him now.
Obi-Wan snorted. Until a few days ago, he had been in a torture chamber that exceeded even his worst imaginations. And barely minutes ago, he had been in the battle of his life, fighting against a creature that was more of an animal than a man. He smiled at her. “Right as rain.”
Their eyes followed Xanatos as he stepped out of the Jedi’s waiting vessel. “Time to go!” he shouted.
Obi-Wan made to turn to the vehicle when Padmé remembered something.
“Better have this back,” she said with a rueful smile. “Before another bounty hunter dispossesses me of my supply.” She lifted the vial.
He nodded seriously and, after carefully folding his free hand in a swathe of his robes, allowed her to drop the vial in it. He placed it in his belt, still taking care not to touch the bottle with his skin.
When he looked up, her eyes were twinkling. “It’s a wonder you carry the thing around. The bottle isn’t poisonous, Obi-Wan.”
“Well, I won’t have to carry it at all if a certain Guardian didn’t leave hers lying around in a bounty hunter’s burning ship,” he retorted but there was a slight blush in his cheeks.
“Well,” she bantered back, “it’s a good thing the Jedi were there…
…in the nick of time. We don’t know why the Emperor want you and your baby so badly but you know, don’t you, that it can’t be for any good?” The old Guardian’s voice is as soothing as her words are frightening.
The mother places her hands protectively on her womb, trying to shelter the child that lies there, innocent for now, for a short while and no longer. Her voice begins, then breaks, then begins and breaks. After three trials at this dance, it finally says desperately, “Will you help me?”
The Guardian’s eyes are old, wise and sad. “That’s what I try to do.”
She places a hand of benediction on the mother’s head and hopes she has passed on the comfort and courage she finds harder and harder to conjure. Her other hands lifts the tiny vial. The clear liquid seems to shimmer in the hypodermic syringe.
“Will it hurt my baby?” The mother’s universal plea. Lines of courage form on her face as the needle hovers above her sunburnt skin.
“No,” the Guardian says softly. “It will save you.”
The needle slips into the skin, the liquid into veins.
“How does it work?” the mother breathes. The absence of pain fascinates her.
The Guardian smiles. The role of arbitrator of poison is far easier than that of harbinger of hope. “It will make it a little difficult for them to…
… find me, anyway? Not that I mind, of course.” Padmé asked as she and Obi-Wan walked towards the waiting vessel.
“We lost contact with you when you were on Naboo. And we knew there was a bounty. So we paid Sabé a visit.” There was no disguising the sarcasm in Obi-Wan’s voice.
She shot his a stern look. “Don’t be too hard on her, Obi-Wan. She didn’t have any choice.”
“She didn’t think she had any choice.”
“You’ve never liked Sabé,” Padmé said sadly. “Right from the beginning.”
They got to the ship. Xanatos helped Padmé in and Obi-Wan got in behind her. He turned to take one last look at the landing platform that had served so nicely as a battlefield. The bounty hunter’s ship, now a pile of embers, was the only companion left for Darth Vader’s extra-modified craft. But not for long. If the local underbelly worked fast enough, they might be able to salvage some valuable parts before the spy droids alerted the Imperial Police.
With a satisfied smile, Obi-Wan closed the hatch.
Asajj was in the pilot’s seat, Xanatos her navigator. The Sith lay in the co-pilot’s seat, a thoroughly (some might say too thoroughly) bound mass of electric binders and limbs.
Padmé had found a seat beside him, and was extricating something from his vest. Before Obi-Wan could even try to understand what she was doing, she was confronting him with her prize.
Her own image, impressed on the holo that Vader had stolen.
Obi-Wan looked from the brown eyes in the holo to the brown eyes that stared at him expectantly.
“It’s a long story,” he said at last.
“I have plenty of time,” Padmé said quietly. “You’d better start…
…talking to the wrong people.
Clearly someone did. With all the certainty of his gifts, the boy knows this traitor must be the other little girl - the one with the dark plaits and sulky eyes, who looks like the sisters but cannot even be their friend. Or the friend of anything good or decent.
And after the boy picks enough shards from the broken pieces of that nightmare to form a reflection, he offers the Guardian this theory.
Her eyes are gentle and un-condemning, a vivid rebuke of the thirst of vengeance in his own soul. “She is only a child.”
All the more reason for malice in one so young to be abhorred - to be eliminated! In his rage, he flings the shards, letting them fall as they will, piercing his soul and drawing blood.
The old Guardian enfolds the shattered pieces of his body and heart into her arms and the well of grief inside him bursts. Tears flow even more freely from his young body as he feels the answering call of pain in her.
He is not the only one that suffers.
After a long moment, the tide recedes and they break apart. She kneels before him and holds him by his shoulders. She does this so that she can both look him in the eye and support him as he sways on his feet.
Her eyes are shadows.
“Well, I’ve lost one grand-daughter to the fire, and the other to her foster parents, and some day, her own hatred of me.”
“She could never hate you!” cries the boy with passionate outrage.
Lines of bitterness sink into the old woman’s face as she laughs. “I would.”
Her words shock the boy to silence.
“Apart from that, I’ve also managed to lose my ward and her child to a fate worse than death. And your Master, who died defending all of us.”
There is no need for more tears. It is enough that her grief is seeping like liquid lead from her hands into his small shoulders.
“You are the Jedi,” she says. Light-heartedness disguises the earnest plea in her voice. “Look into the future and tell me this: does it ever end?”
He bows his head. He is too young, and has grown up too quickly to know the answers.
Duplicating her gesture, his small hands come to rest on her shoulders. The old souls stare at each other and try to find in aged faces a future that will make everything worthwhile.