Everything is the same, mathematically speaking.
Mathematically speaking, there is no reason for these small quarters to feel any less full than ever they had. The simple, almost sparse interior has not grown or shrunk, the small rooms still governed by a kinder rule of two – two bodies, two Jedi, two signatures burning steadily in the Force. One teacher, one student, two vows – to teach and protect, to learn and obey; two luminous beings orbiting each other in slow circles of devotion.
Mathematically speaking, nothing has changed. Obi-Wan himself, a veteran of more hyperspace jumps and astronavigational conundrums than he can count, has been making far more complex calculations for most of his life. But the truth of the matter is that he has never cared much for mathematics, however numerically proficient he might be.
Everything is not the same.
Tea at certain hours is a habit for Obi-Wan by now, one bordering on sacred ritual. Anakin seems intrigued enough by the brewing process, hovering over the pot to catch a glimpse of the dry, thin leaves Obi-Wan crumbles into its dark interior, but his temporary enthusiasm flees faster than a gundark with its tail aflame when he actually tests the contents of his own cup. The boy is clearly unfamiliar with the drink, and even more clearly unimpressed with the taste, though he makes a commendable effort to freeze his face into a neutral expression immediately after the first sip. “It’s...good?” he attempts, trying valiantly to keep the tinge of dislike from his face.
Intellectually, Obi-Wan recognizes the comedy inherent in this situation, and while he doesn’t quite have it in him to smile, his old companion Wit, former furious defender of his spirit, refuses to be completely cowed. It bares its teeth, tentatively, in simmering defiance of his heart’s otherwise dark and melancholy decrees.
“Is that a question?” he prods, one eyebrow slightly raised.
The subtle jest misses its mark. Anakin’s face falls, Wit fleeing with its tail between its legs, back to the cave from whence it had made its all-too-brief foray back into the world. “Is that not what you wanted me to say?” Anakin asks uncertainly, fingers twined tightly together in his lap.
Obi-Wan’s heart sinks like the leaves he had only moments ago crumbled between his fingers, down through dark amber liquid, down to the bottom of the pot. Anakin does not understand. Of course he does not. Anakin is too old, Anakin is not old enough, Anakin does not understand this kind of gentle ribbing, the subtle teasing back-and-forth so familiar to Obi-Wan that he can hardly conceive of another way of speaking. Anakin is not Temple-raised. Anakin has a mother. Anakin was a slave.
Everything is not the same; and he is a fool for imagining otherwise, even if for the most fleeting of instances.
He will do better.
Anakin eyes the younglings frolicking in the artificial river with uncharacteristic trepidation, unconsciously leaning forward as a tiny Wookiee child is hauled out of the water by the scruff of her neck, sputtering and sopping wet, her clan master’s bellow of displeasure at the excessive roughhousing carrying easily across the verdant space to the path where Anakin and Obi-Wan have paused in the middle of their stroll.
Obi-Wan’s brain is almost certainly firing too slowly lately. He looks down at his apprentice, new realization illuminating a previously unconsidered likelihood. “You don’t know how to swim.”
Anakin gives him a Look, fair brows pulled together and lips pursed, “why in the galaxy would you think I know how to swim?” written in sweeping Huttese characters across his broad forehead.
In another life, maybe, the sight of such skeptical disapprobation on a nine year-old face might have made Obi-Wan laugh. As it is, he adds another item to a mental list that has already grown alarmingly long, and tries to suppress the now-familiar swell of anxiety this induces.
Anakin shuffles his feet, eyeing the faraway group of younglings surreptitiously. And perhaps that is not trepidation on his face, after all - for when he opens his mouth to comment, his voice is tinged with something like longing. “I heard a trader at Watto's say once that there are planets where everybody has to swim all the time, 'cause there isn’t any land, anywhere.” Far from appearing intimidated by such a prospect, Anakin sounds enchanted by the possibility. “He said the salt gunked up his ship’s hull pretty bad, though. I don’t think he liked it there too much.”
“Your trader friend was telling the truth,” Obi-Wan confirms. “I have a friend from just such a place.”
Anakin points to the splashing group of younglings. “Are you gonna teach me that, too?”
A Nautolan child plunges into the water, disappearing below the surface in a frothy swirl of bubbles. After a moment’s hesitation, Obi-Wan nods. Though he personally has no memory of learning any such thing. Jedi younglings were taught such basic survival skills early. How is he to teach what he does not remember learning himself?
And yes, master, he adds as a dark afterthought. That is a question.
Anakin trots down the hushed and dimly lit corridors, intent on accomplishing the task his teacher had set him. Obi-Wan, wrapped in the muffled folds of late-night stillness, follows a short distance behind, carefully keeping pace with his student, a silent companion in the boy’s perambulations.
“Whoops,” Anakin mutters. “Wrong way.” He turns and peers down the opposite hallway, the artificial dusking of the Temple masking the doorways lining either side of the corridor. “Maybe...this way. Right?”
Obi-Wan nods. Anakin, buoyed by the unexpected hint, sets off again, in search of the randomly chosen point assigned to him by his teacher. This is, Obi-Wan reflects, perhaps not the most conventional way of teaching a newcomer the ‘lay of the land’, so to speak, but since sleep had continued to prove elusive for them both, Obi-Wan had quickly discovered the value of improvisational teaching.
Anakin turns a corner, some of his brief flare of confidence fading as the immensity of the Temple reasserts itself, smooth columns rising in impersonal majesty on either side of them, stretching up into the voiceless shadows overhead. The child sighs, a tiny sound in the vast space. “It’s too easy to get lost in here, master.”
Morning meal, they typically take in their quarters. Midday meal, and evening meal, too, if Obi-Wan could have his way – he would be more than happy to avoid the dining halls, with their accompanying muffled whispers and poorly-concealed intrigue, for as long as it takes the Temple’s general population to forget his name.
But that is a cringing brand of cowardice, and he is far too old for such childishness. He and Anakin brave the refectory together, Obi-Wan pointing out where one might acquire utensils, and Anakin, wide-eyed, asking the name and major ingredients of every piece of simple fare available for consumption, his exhaustive curiosity far exceeding Obi-Wan’s limited culinary knowledge.
Anakin’s enthusiasm begins to flag as their progress slows to a near standstill, the orderly line snagged on some delay up ahead. He chews on his lip, shifting from foot to foot as he waits for the beings ahead of them to move along, his sudden unease both Force-palpable and visually perceptible – a fact Obi-Wan dutifully notes, adding it to the ever-growing list of problems he is now responsible for solving. “Anakin.”
Anakin looks at him uncertainly. “Everybody’s staring at me, master.”
Obi-Wan looks around carefully, exercising considerably more discretion than his very young charge. Anakin’s unease is more a Force-enhanced perception of others’ mental focus than an accurate perception of actual, physical scrutiny. Jedi do not stare. Not openly. But the boy is not entirely mistaken – there is no denying which two diners occupy the center of the room’s interest.
Obi-Wan is no more comfortable with the unwanted attention than Anakin, but the two of them are Jedi. Anakin must learn to endure such things quietly and without complaint.
“They mean you no harm,” Obi-Wan says, voice low. “They are interested in you. You have just accomplished a very impressive feat, you might recall.”
Anakin brightens a little bit at the reminder of his triumphant adventure in the skies above Naboo. “They should stare at both of us, then,” he offers, trying magnanimously, if misguidedly, to share the unsolicited spotlight. “You did a very impressive feat too.”
Obi-Wan pushes the involuntarily twist in his gut down and away, and, with his superior reach, plucks the roll Anakin has been eyeing from a bin further down the serving line, placing it on the boy’s plate. “Go and find us a seat,” he suggests.
Anakin ducks out of line, new boots squeaking on the highly polished floor. Obi-Wan, fighting an incipient swell of something unidentifiable, draws in a sorry attempt at a centering breath.
A very impressive feat; hardly so. Not so. Getting one’s master killed might very well be considered a feat of some sort, but Obi-Wan has not yet reconciled himself to the fame such a spectacular failure apparently inspires.
He kneels in the center of the rotunda, drowning in an ocean of stars. In the Force, his inner light waxes brightly, its cool flames kindling higher, his presence a glowing sun around which a hundred thousand holoprojected planets wheel.
He has already been here too long. The night has long since crawled past an acceptable hour for occupying the Temple’s public spaces, but he has not found his center yet, and so he is not ready to leave.
In. Lungs filling with sapphire-tinted space.
It is ironic, perhaps, that the only place on Coruscant from which one can actually see stars is indoors, by the blue glow of the most sophisticated holoprojectors Republic funding can afford, the galaxy’s myriad systems spinning in miniature around Obi-Wan’s motionless form. Many of these systems he has visited. Many more he has not. Anakin, ambitious beyond the aspirations of any child Obi-Wan has ever met, would undoubtedly declare his nine year-old self destined to visit all of them, someday. And who is Obi-Wan to contradict him? Perhaps a child of prophecy is no more bound by human limits than the Force itself. Certainly there is no way for the rest of them, mere mortals that they are, to know.
A small shadow darkens the entrance to the Map Room, gravelly words rolling in from the vicinity of the door in a wash of incontrovertible authority, a power recognized since earliest childhood. “Too late for stargazing it is,” the Grand Master of the Order grumbles. “Seek something do you, Knight Kenobi?”
Obi-Wan instinctively bows his head to the floor. “Master. I...was merely meditating.”
Yoda stumps into the room, halting just before Obi-Wan’s prostrate form. “Meditating!" he ejects. "Guidance, do you seek?” The green master snorts disparagingly. “Need meditation for that, you do not. Entire Temple of teachers have you here – to humble yourself before them, so difficult is?”
Obi-Wan feels a flush crawl up behind his ears at the imputation of pride. “No, master,” he answers, allowing humility to course unshielded behind his words. “I...am grateful for the wisdom available to me. I hope I shall always seek counsel when I have need of it.”
Yoda nods in what might be either approval, or else simple accompaniment to whatever narrative is forming in his ancient brain. “What seek you here, then?” the undeterred master inquires again, waving his walking stick about his hunched form in skeptical dismissal of their surroundings, indicating with one gnarled hand the slowly spinning map. “Look at Master Yoda, youngling. A journey, plan you?”
Obi-Wan rests back on his heels, meeting the tiny master’s eyes. “No, master.”
“Thought not, did I!” Yoda chuckles throatily. “Already begun one you have – and no short trip it is.”
“With respect, master,” Obi-Wan says, desperate to stave off any further questioning of his motives. “I...seek only peace.” Though I do not suppose I shall find it for a very long time.
Yoda, unfortunately, has always had the unpleasant habit of overhearing even such private admissions. “Hmph!” he exclaims. “Perhaps!” He narrows his eyes at Obi-Wan, an all-too perceptive light in his bright eyes. “Defeated, then, are you? Given up?”
“No, master.” Obi-Wan recoils at the very thought.
“Hmmmm," Yoda rumbles, resting both hands upon his gimer stick. "See through you, I can,” he reminds his kneeling Knight. The ancient one rakes his eyes over Obi-Wan, seeming to take in each inch of the young Jedi’s outward form, and then every swell of his inward spirit, too, until Obi-Wan closes his eyes beneath the scrutiny, opening them again only when he feels the Grand Master’s probing attention dissipate.
Yoda is watching him intently, wrinkled brow even more furrowed than usual, though the expression on his face is not quite an unkindly one. “Seekers are we, Obi-Wan,” the hoary old master rasps at last, the familiar words ringing with certainty. “Not saints.” He waves a clawed hand through the sea of stars, scattering various systems to the outskirts of the room. “Never mind you, how long extends your seeking. Elusive, peace, even for Jedi. Sneaky. Long in the finding may it be, perhaps.” He limps forward, halting just inches in front of Obi-Wan’s face. “Promise you only this, Master Yoda does." He raps his knobbly stick warningly against the floor, the sharp crack echoing in the empty space. "Find it never will you, if stop looking you do.”
The smooth pebbles of the meditation garden are reassuringly stony and hard beneath his still form, the weight of his body pressing them uncomfortably into his knees. This pain is nothing, it is less than nothing – a mere weakness of the flesh, a passing inconvenience, one incapable of so much as touching the incorporeal luminosity of his spirit. He ignores its sting, acknowledging the pain's existence and banishing it quickly to the Force. The ache he seeks to uproot is a more insidious one.
A crunch of gravel, as someone kneels across from him. “Am I disturbing you?”
The faint damp of salt and sea fills his lungs. Eyes still closed, his mouth curves into a gentle smile. “Never.” Not her. Not ever. “How may I be of service, Padawan Eerin?”
Bant huffs a little breath of annoyance. He can almost hear her rolling her silvery eyes. “I want you to take a break,” she says promptly.
“Bant,” he starts, and then halts, wavering on the edge of confession for one dizzying moment. Only a moment. And then he plunges over the edge, ashamed of his hesitation. This is Bant, for Force’s sake. “I can hardly make tea. I’m so tired.”
She wraps her webbed hands around his wrists, compassion flowing out of her fingers, up his arms. “I’ll make you some. Bring your little adoptee.”
“Anakin’s not much for tea,” Obi-Wan sighs, but allows her to pull him to his feet.
Bant snorts. “Apprenticed to you? You’ll have him trained out of that soon enough.” She wraps one of his warm hands in her own cool one. “Come.”
Bant doesn’t let go even when they have left the relative privacy of the meditation gardens behind, pulling him down the corridor beside her, her hand clasped around his in an unapologetic display of affection, one perhaps slightly more demonstrative than is strictly Jedi-appropriate. No one gives them a second glance, though. Not even the most conservative of masters harbor any illusions about their ability to rein in the rampant kindness that is Bant Eerin.
Anakin does a far better job of choking down his tea in Bant’s quarters, although that development may have more to do with the distraction posed by the Mon Calamari Jedi serving him than with any improvement in his tastes. He grabs the sleeve of Obi-Wan’s cloak as they walk back to their own quarters, the twin barriers of awkwardness and uncertainty temporarily blasted apart by his fascination. “Master,” he whispers fervently, eyes wide. “That was wizard. She was nice. Did you see her eyes? She looks just like a fish!”
Obi-Wan’s eyebrows shoot up without him meaning them to. “Master Eerin looks like herself, I think you mean,” he suggests pointedly.
Anakin lets go of Obi-Wan’s robe, stuffs his hands into his own sleeves. After a few more steps, Obi-Wan pauses and waits, his student having inexplicably begun to lag behind.
The boy looks down at his boots, discomfort radiating off him in waves.
Anakin chances a quick glance up at Obi-Wan’s face, then looks away again. “I didn’t mean it like a bad thing,” he mumbles finally. “I just meant - she was rugged, is all.”
The message from Phindar, when it appears in his quarters' comm. box, catches Obi-Wan off guard. He had not, to be honest, expected news outside the Temple to travel quite so quickly, and the pre-recorded transmission arrives precisely when he is least prepared for such interruptions, in the empty and dead hours of the night – a detail he really ought to have anticipated, planetary time differences being what they are.
Obi-Wan downloads the message to a miniature projector and takes it outside, to avoid disturbing what is a rare bout of sound sleep for his Padawan. The small balcony attached to the quarters he and Anakin share is still a menagerie of greenery, the same knee-high canopy of broad leaves and questing tendrils that it has always been – but Obi-Wan will have to forgive himself if he indulges in the nonsensical illusion that the balcony’s botanical residents appear somewhat more subdued than usual, if such a thing is possible, for plants. Obi-Wan is doing his best with them, certainly - but he is well aware that his dubious horticultural skills are a poor substitute for the painstaking and tender care formerly lavished upon them by their original cultivator.
Sliding the balcony door closed behind him and sinking to the ground among the various pots and trellises, he activates the small holoplate. A pair of very familiar beings pop immediately into view, their forms etched in holographic blue. Guerra Derida's normally ebullient expression is uncharacteristically somber; strange, almost, to look at. “Obawan!” he laments, sparing not a moment for unnecessary greetings. “My good friend, such unhappy things I am hearing.”
“Wish I could say that we lie,” Paxxi adds, shaking his head sorrowfully. “But I do not think so.”
“It is good that you are so far away,” Guerra says, his voice's mournful quality belying that statement's already dubious credibility. “Not wishing you to come visit us at all, we are. Not so, I lie! We are desperate to see your face, so!”
Behind them, the venerable Derida matriarch ducks into the frame. “True, Obawan,” Duenna affirms, patting both her adult sons’ heads with a loving sort of exasperation, the eternal forbearance of maternal affection. “My ridiculous children do not lie. Come to visit lovely Phindar tomorrow, you should.”
"Not so!" Guerra amends. "We are sure you are so busy, oh. But soon, yes."
Duenna leans forward a bit more, her aging face, witness to so many pains, still lined with strength; her voice the voice of understanding, of old suffering healed but not quite forgotten. “Listen to Duenna, baby Jedi,” she says, fixing the camera with her stern gaze. “We are sure you will be taking excellent care of yourself - not so, I lie! This is why you must come to Phindar, true fact; we shall do everything for you here, so."
"And comm us back sooner, Obawan," Guerra finishes, "or we will be worrying, no lie.” The rest of the family choruses their hearty agreement.
And the projection winks out.
Obi-Wan does not stir for a very long time. Nor does he comm them back. Not that night, at least. But he does, eventually, listen to their message once more, and then maybe again, and if he perhaps succumbs at last to a less-than-productive manifestation of his long-stifled misery, then that is between himself and the plants, who well understand the benefits of rainfall, and know better than to comment.
The inevitable missive from Dex does not take Obi-Wan by surprise. He had prepared himself better for this eventuality, but even so, an as-yet undisciplined part of him wishes, for the first time in all the years since he’d made the charismatic Besalisk’s acquaintance, that he could simply ignore the warm but undeniably urgent summons to dinner. Such feelings are childish – a struggle he seems to be encountering more and more, lately – but he pushes his dread away, stubbornly refusing to capitulate to fear. To decline such an invitation is unthinkable. Leaving Anakin alone and unsupervised in the Temple is a similarly, laughably non-viable option, and so it is that Obi-Wan bundles his bewildered apprentice into a borrowed Temple aircar and prepares to give the child his first real taste of lower Coruscanti culture, the master mentally steeling himself for the unhappy conversation he is sure awaits him at journey’s end, while the oblivious Padawan levers himself up onto his knees to stare out the viewport, wide-eyed and drinking in the city’s frenetic pulse.
At their destination, Anakin goggles at the diner owner’s sheer size, the boy's slight frame dwarfed by Dex’s towering bulk. Anakin's gaping jaw drops even further when Obi-Wan’s ribs nearly crack under the crushing pressure of the Besalisk’s customary four-armed embrace. Dex, insistent as ever, plies them both with sustenance, refusing to let them so much as glance at the exit until they have been stuffed to bursting with food, and so the three of them take evening meal together, ensconced in one of the diner's aging but amply cushioned booths. Anakin eats with the appetite of five boys his size, and Dex, puzzlingly, mercifully, mentions nothing of consequence save Obi-Wan’s new Padawan, who thrills at being the center of attention for the first time in a long time, such things being discouraged in the Temple.
Dusk’s purple fronds are brushing against the diner's windows by the time they make their excuses, warm sunset shadows blooming in yellow and rose-pink across the small establishment’s cozy interior. Obi-Wan, a yawning Anakin in tow, is sent packing only after the bestowal of certain unlooked-for gifts - a heavy Besalisk arm slung round his shoulders, the gruff admonition don’t you be a stranger now growled in his ear, and the additional burden of a heap of end-of-day leftovers deposited in his arms - all of which say far more than any amount of conversation ever could.
Anakin hunches cross-legged on the floor in the common area, directing a fierce scowl at the datapad resting on the low table in front of him. His Force signature, unshielded and white-hot with latent power, churns with negative emotion, frustration and shame locked together in a bruised knot.
Obi-Wan kneels beside the child, reminding himself not to worry just yet, that this is nothing he had not anticipated, that this is natural. Anakin has had next to no experience with traditional schooling – some difficulties of this type are only to be expected.
“You’re struggling,” Obi-Wan remarks, his tone neutral.
“I can’t do this,” Anakin responds flatly.
Obi-Wan peers at the ‘pad’s contents, searching for the source of Anakin’s trouble. The questions posed at the top of the screen appear relatively simple, well within Anakin’s capabilities.
But then again –
Obi-Wan hesitates, wondering how best to broach his suspicions. “Anakin,” he slowly begins, expertly curating his tone to avoid any erroneously-registered implications of judgment. "If you cannot read it..."
“I can read!” Anakin retorts defensively, leaving the last and most relevant part of the sentence, “in Huttese”, unspoken.
Obi-Wan takes a moment, inhales and exhales slowly. Center. He draws the datapad across the table with his fingertips and assesses the task his apprentice has been set. “Not to worry,” he tells the boy, trying for a lightness he does not necessarily feel. “You learned to pilot a starfighter in under a minute, or so I hear. The Aurebesh may require rather more of your time, but such an investment is at the very least far less likely to result in either of us fleeing a core implosion.”
Too late, Obi-Wan bites his tongue, freezes with his finger over the datascreen. That had been a tease, again – and Anakin doesn’t –
But the Force around Anakin dances in delighted comprehension, the boy pushing himself onto his knees and snatching the datapad back with renewed confidence. “I could probably rig this to blow up,” he shrugs carelessly, the corners of his mouth turned up in a smirk. “If you wanted it to be more exciting.”
Oh. A little something inside Obi-Wan cracks open, and not in such a terrible way, either, he thinks, dazedly – not in the dully aching way which has been splintering and splinting him back together these last few weeks, but a good, biting kind of hurt, its broken edges somehow sharper and more real than anything else has felt for a long time – a snap and a stinging flood, mingled pain and relief akin to the lancing of a wound.
Out flows dark, in grows hope.
Anakin’s face is half-shaded by the leaves of his new favorite plant, his arms elbow-deep in green, twining tentacles. He is bolder, in that way, than Obi-Wan has ever been.
Anakin watches as Obi-Wan fills a cup of water in the tiny kitchen nook. “Master?” the Padawan ventures. “Can I water them instead?”
Obi-Wan is momentarily taken aback, a baffled “Why?” escaping his lips before he has a chance to think. He grimaces at the slip, but Anakin doesn’t appear thrown by the abrupt impoliteness of the inquiry, pointing instead to the scrap of flimsi Obi-Wan had slapped onto the front of the conservator weeks ago, WATER PLANTS scrawled hastily across its surface.
“Because,” Anakin says frankly. "Every time we go out somewhere we always come right back in because you forgot, and then we’re kind of in a rush, and you don’t really like that because you said we have to be punctual.”
Obi-Wan, completely thrown, can at first only take a moment to approvingly note the use of a new vocabulary word. And then he takes one moment more, and perhaps another, until he has quite possibly crossed the line into what might be considered a full-blown hesitation. The cup in his hand runs over with water, flooding the sleeve of his tunic, and he hurriedly yanks his arm out of the stream, switching off the tap.
He is no green thumb, certainly. The Force had made a prudent choice indeed when it had decided not to send him to the Ag-Corps after all - he’s sure the Meerians are grateful. Which means, then, that the source of his hesitation in this area is not some resurfaced desire to reclaim an almost-career in agriculture, but rather sentiment, and sentiment...
A bud of realization unfolds within him, an unlikely and improbable blossom of light, glowing steadily, in defiance of its dark and clinging root soil. Sentiment is hardly the Jedi trait he is meant to be modeling here. And he has more than enough strays to care for as it is.
Unexpected gratitude washes through him, a cleansing wave sweeping through packed and muddy places, a small breath passing his lips, tinged with relief, as he absolves himself of this small responsibility. He holds out the filled glass to his young charge with a half bow and a show of ceremony. “Anakin Skywalker, be my guest.”
Anakin wrests his arms free of the tentacled behemoth making his acquaintance and bounds forward to take the cup. “Don’t worry,” he assures Obi-Wan. “I won’t forget.”
Obi-Wan realizes, with some degree of surprise, that he is not worried at all. Thank the Force for small favors - removed from Obi-Wan's own questionable standards of care, his sprawling vegetative inheritance might well survive into the next year, if he has done his calculations correctly.
Or perhaps even beyond. Who can say? All nurtured things grow, after all, and exponentially so, with the right amount of water, and sunlight, and time.