Obi-Wan stared at his reflection morosely, scowling at his hair, which showed a distressing tendency to clump up in wayward tufts instead of the even brush of hair a proper Padawan wore. Perhaps if he put some styling paste on? But then the water hadn't seemed to help matters at all…
"Padawan!" came his master's voice from outside the door. "Have you been taken ill?"
Obi-Wan winced and tugged his tunic down over his hips, running a wet hand over the frizzy end of his braid once more. "No, Master! I'm coming, Master."
He'd just have to hope for the best.
"There you are," his master said, when he emerged from the fresher. "I thought I was going to have to stage a rescue."
Obi-Wan flushed. "I'm sorry, Master. I won't take so long next time."
"It's all right, Padawan," his master said, laying a warm hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry so. Bellan doesn't bite, no matter what the rumors say."
Obi-Wan smiled weakly. "Of course, Master." His master smiled at him, and Obi-Wan fell into step, behind his master and to the left.
Maybe, he thought, if he was very quiet and respectful and behaved properly, Knight Morai wouldn't notice him. She would probably want to talk to her former master about the mission she'd just completed. Maybe it would be top secret, and they would ask Obi-Wan to grant them some privacy.
Yes, and perhaps a flock of Ter'yoril birds would swoop down from the sky and carry Knight Morai off before she had a chance to form an opinion of her successor.
Obi-Wan stifled a sigh. His master had only had two Padawans before him; he'd met Xanatos-- an experience he did not wish to repeat-- but the only time he'd ever seen Knight Bellan Morai was when she and Master Jinn had done a lightsaber demonstration for the Initiate classes when Obi-Wan was seven. It had been intended to demonstrate that one was not necessarily doomed to failure when fighting a physically stronger opponent, and the children who had watched had never forgotten it. Knight Morai had fought ferociously, the golden blade of her saber tracing the air like a comet's tail, ducking over, under, and around Master Jinn for what seemed like hours until she finally disarmed him with a neat flick of the wrist. Obi-Wan suspected that they had probably planned that-- nobody disarmed his master in combat-- but it had been very impressive, nevertheless. When he'd told Garen of the impending visit, his friend's eyes had widened.
"Stars, Obi, you're in for it now," he's said. "I hear she's very protective of Master Jinn. She hated Xanatos."
"Jedi don't hate," Obi-Wan had said. "Besides, Xanatos Turned, remember? It's no wonder she didn't like him. She probably won't even notice I'm there."
Bellan Morai looked down at her chron and sighed. After a time, she had to admit, one came to miss living on Coruscant, but nothing sentient got any pleasure from the Sith-spawned traffic in the space lanes on the way there. She'd been waiting for a landing window for three and a half hours, and after all, one could only meditate so long.
She called up her messages again, hoping there'd be something new since the last time she checked. Debriefing notice, lunch appointment, an announcement for a new seminar in unarmed combat… and the welcome-home note from Qui-Gon that she'd read at least twelve times since it had arrived the previous night.
You probably know this already, he had written, Master Yoda being what he is, but pretend for my sake that it's surprising news. I've finally given in to my Master's painfully unsubtle urgings and taken on another Padawan. His name is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
She had all of Kenobi's records that were accessible from outside the Temple, and several that weren't supposed to be. She'd spent most of the night going over them, but it hadn't been very productive, and Qui-Gon's note wasn't helpful. She read the relevant bit again.
I admit that I was at first reluctant to take him on, a reluctance due almost entirely to my own stubborn insistence on viewing every Initiate I met as a potential Xanatos in embryo. My inability to move past my own mistakes nearly cost me dearly, but the Force, aided in no small degree by my revered former master, contrived to show me my error-- and very thankful I am for their interference. Obi-Wan is turning into an excellent student: respectful, attentive, and eager to learn. I feel confident that he can become a fine Knight in time, a credit to the Order and to Yoda's Line. I'm eager to introduce you to each other; I'm sure you'll find many interests in common.
She sighed. She'd wanted Qui-Gon to take another apprentice, but she'd always imagined that he'd at least mention his plans to her before acting on them. They'd been so close in the years after Xanatos that she'd never envisioned returning from a mission to find Qui-Gon presenting her with a fluff-headed fait accompli, like a rebellious son flaunting his elopement to his horrified parents.
A ding from the comm interrupted her thoughts. "Shuttle Forcelight, this is Coruscant Traffic Control, acknowledge."
At last. "Go ahead, Control."
"You are cleared for entry on vector 342-g. Transmitting coordinates now. Please do not deviate from this vector. Have a pleasant stay on Coruscant."
She checked the navigation data briefly, then programmed the flight plan into the auto-pilot. It was an unusually good path, taking her almost directly into the Temple District. She flicked the comm on again. "Forcelight to Jedi Flight Control," she said.
"This is Jedi Control, go ahead Forcelight."
"I have received landing clearance on vector 342-g and am proceeding to the Temple District," she said. "ETA nine standard minutes."
"Acknowledged, Forcelight. Proceed to landing pad nineteen. May the Force be with you."
"And with you," Bellan said. "Forcelight out." She closed the channel and rose, gathering her luggage. She had re-packed what little she carried half an hour into her wait, but she liked to be able to leave the ship as soon as she touched down at the Temple; it was a rarity to land in a place where she could trust her hosts to see to her ship while she attended to her own concerns.
When she returned to the cockpit, the ship was approaching the Temple District, and she took it off autopilot and began to guide it in its final descent. She called up a magnified view of the landing pad, more from habit than anything else. In the field, it was always important to know what was waiting for you on the ground. Here at the Temple, it was just nice to see if anyone was waiting for you to arrive.
She smiled. In all the time since Qui-Gon Jinn had become her teacher, he had never allowed her transport to go unmet. Even after her Knighting, after they had begun to work apart more often than together, he had always made sure that she had something; if he was off-planet when she was scheduled to return, he always sent her a message, often contriving to have someone who owed him a favor deliver a box of her favorite Thyferran pepper cakes. One one notable occasion he'd even shown up at the landing pad fresh out of the infirmary, leaning on a cane and being subtly braced by a long-suffering Xanatos, who had rolled his eyes when she caught his gaze.
"Shouldn't you be keeping your Master indoors during his convalescence, Padawan?" she'd asked, grinning at him.
He'd sighed and shifted his gentle grip on an indignant Qui-Gon. "Alas, Knight Morai, I fear the strength for such a task has not been granted me by the Force." He'd returned her smile, then; it had been one of the few times that she had felt a kinship to the boy.
She pulled her attention away from the memory and scanned the landing pad as she guided the ship in. There; that tall figure was unmistakable, even from this distance, and the smaller one behind him must be the new Padawan.
What she found in his records was inconclusive. The boy had a good academic record, which might show his dedication to his calling or a dangerous personal ambition. The training Masters spoke of his need to gain better control of his anger and aggression in combat-- a telltale sign of susceptibility to the Dark Side, or simply the result of rampaging teenage hormones? More worrying still was the fact that Kenobi had been mere days away from permanent assignment to the Agri-Corps-- actually on a Corps planet-- when her former Master had claimed him. What was wrong with the boy that a Temple full of Masters had passed him over? What flaw had Qui-Gon overlooked or ignored in his sudden determination that Kenobi was the Padawan the Force had willed for him? She wouldn't be satisfied until she'd had a chance to evaluate the boy herself.
Bellan fired the repulsors and settled the ship down with a gentle thump. This one, she was determined, would not Turn, would not die, would not decide he'd rather be a merchant spacer than a Jedi; he would become a fine Knight and a comfort to his Master if she personally had to hypno-drug and Force-suggest him every step of the way.
For Kenobi's own sake, she hoped she wouldn't have to.
Obi-Wan pulled his outer tunic down as the shuttle doors opened. His master was already starting forward, a wide smile on his face, and Obi-Wan hung back a little, watching the reunion. Knight Morai almost vanished into Master Jinn's robes when he swept her into an enthusiastic hug. After a moment, his master turned and beckoned Obi-Wan forward. "Bellan, this is my new Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan, I'm sure you've heard me speak of my first apprentice, Knight Bellan Morai."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan bowed respectfully. "It's an honor to meet you, Knight Morai," he said.
She was only a little taller than him, and met his eyes coolly; he felt as though he was being inspected, and ran a nervous hand over his hair.
"I look forward to getting to know you better, Padawan Kenobi," she said. Master Jinn tugged on her long red braid. "So formal, all of a sudden," he said. "There's no need for that here, surely." He turned and started towards the Temple. "Come on, I've signed Obi-Wan out of philosophy today, so we'll have time for a nice lunch out of Temple. I thought we could go to Jelburri Plaza."
"That sounds wonderful," Knight Morai said, smiling at him. "I've been craving fire noodles for the last three weeks."
"Obi-Wan?" his master asked.
"Thank you, Master, I would enjoy that," he said. He'd rather eat the funny green stuff in the Jedi commissary than burn his tongue off eating fire noodles, but there was a sandwich shop on the other side of the plaza that he'd gone to a few times with Bant when he was an initiate.
"That settles it, then," Master Jinn said, pulling Knight Morai's pack off her shoulder and pushing it at a passing service droid. "Take this to Knight Morai's quarters, please," he said, and started off again as the droid beeped an acknowledgment.
They took a public transport to the Jelburri Plaza, a nearby shopping area popular among the Jedi. A number of small restaurants shared a common courtyard filled with tables and shaded by large containers of fragrant plants. They paused in front of the noodle shop, and Master Jinn gave Obi-Wan a credit chip.
"I know you aren't overly fond of spicy food, Padawan," he said. "Go get what you'd like for lunch and meet us back at that table." He pointed.
Obi-Wan clutched the chip. "Yes, Master, thank you," he said, bowing hastily for good measure, and he headed across the plaza to the sandwich shop on the other side. He lingered over the menu, wanting to get the chi'pora, but somehow he didn't think his master had trusted him alone so that he could buy a fried meat-and-cheese turnover. It was a Jedi's duty, after all, to fuel his body with good nutrition so as to be able to perform at his best.
He settled on a cold sandwich with enough vegetables to please even the strictest Jedi Master, added a bottle of fruit juice, and carried his meal over to the table, where his Master and Knight Morai were already seated.
"I'm sorry," he said, setting down his tray. "I didn't mean to make you wait."
"It's all right, Padawan," his master said. "No harm done."
Obi-Wan sat, waiting until his master and Knight Morai began eating before picking up his sandwich.
"So, Bellan," his Master said, "how much can you tell us about your mission to L'moth?"
She snorted. "As if you haven't wormed all the details out of Yoda by now," she said. "It wouldn't surprise me to learn you've seen every progress report I sent since I got there."
"Of course I have," Master Jinn said, chuckling. "But I want to hear the parts that don't make it into a report."
She rolled her eyes, but looked pleased nonetheless. "You're incorrigible, Qui-Gon," she said. "I supposed I might have a few stories I could tell." She gestured at Obi-Wan. "Most of them, though, you probably don't want to hear until later. I'd hate to corrupt virgin ears."
Obi-Wan was disappointed, and began to concentrate on making himself inconspicuous as Knight Morai began to tell a complicated story involving a smuggler and a shipping crate full of bath toys. If they forgot he was listening, Obi-Wan thought, perhaps Knight Morai would tell some of the stories that were deemed unsuitable for Padawan ears.
He listened raptly as his master and Knight Morai talked; the conversation soon turned from Padawan-safe anecdotes of missions to a complicated debate about the royal succession of a planetary system on the mid-rim that Obi-Wan was only vaguely familiar with. His master was gesturing expansively, grinning at Knight Morai as she argued with him, nearly poking him with a chopstick as she made a particularly vehement point.
Obi-Wan resolved to add another galactic politics class to his next term rotation.
He had finished his sandwich when his master pushed back from the table and declared himself in need of a mixed-berry ice, then headed across the plaza to the fruit-ice shop. Knight Morai watched Master Jinn cross the plaza, and turned to look at Obi-Wan. It was like looking into a glacier, and he knew, with a sudden, sinking dread, that Garen had been right. Without his master there to act as a buffer, she was free to turn her attention to Obi-Wan, and it was obvious that she had already judged him and found him unworthy of his apprenticeship, of his master's time… of the life he was living, when he should have been on some barren AgriCorps outpost getting wheat to grow in the desert.
"You must feel very neglected, sitting here all this time while your Master and I talked," she said.
He blinked. "No, ma'am," he said. "It was very interesting." Maybe, he thought, she would at least treat him with courtesy, as though he were a diplomat she didn't like but who wasn't worth the trouble to snub entirely.
She arched an eyebrow. "Surely you couldn't follow all of that," she said. "I think I would have heard if the Jedi were harboring a sociopolitical prodigy."
Obi-Wan felt his ears get hot. Of course he hadn't followed it, but he had wished he could. He fought to banish the telltale blush. "No, ma'am," he said. "But it made me want to understand it."
"An admirable goal, I'm sure," she said, "especially for one of your tender years." Obi-Wan found himself pressing backwards in his seat as though he could escape the disdain in her eyes. She obviously thought that he was trying to win points for himself with false enthusiasm, and he couldn't convince her otherwise without making himself look paranoid. His stomach hurt.
"And yet Qui-Gon only took you on as his Padawan six months ago? That's leaving it rather late, isn't it?"
Beneath the table, Obi-Wan wiped his hands on his pant legs. He tried to keep his breathing even. "Yes, Knight Morai." This was it, then. She obviously knew about his history, about the Agri-Corps. Of course she knew; she was widely recognized as one of the finest undercover operatives in the Order. She had probably looked him up the moment she heard his name. She probably had a file of every fight he'd ever been in, every sparring match he'd ever lost, every test he'd ever failed. He tried to brace himself for what he knew was coming.
She leaned forward, her tone so soft he could scarcely hear her, but at the same time penetrating and cold with scorn. "And why was it left so late, Padawan Kenobi?"
He wanted to look away, but couldn't. He felt raw, as if all his skin had been torn away. She despised him; he could feel it. She wasn't even bothering to shield it from him. He wondered if she had come to convince his master to change his mind. Did failed Padawans go to the Agri-Corps, or were they cast out of the Order altogether? He couldn't remember ever hearing of such a thing. He wondered if she had already selected his replacement, some more talented initiate who would be worthy of Qui-Gon Jinn. "I--"
"Or perhaps the question should be why he chose you at all."
He stared at her, hot with shame, not letting himself blink for fear that the prickling behind his eyes would develop into tears. It was the truth, after all, and they both knew it; nothing more than any other Jedi had asked when they heard that Qui-Gon Jinn had snatched his latest apprentice right from the jaws of the Agri-Corps. "I know," he said at last, proud that his voice was fairly steady.
"So, Padawan Kenobi," she said. "What's the answer? Did he have a revelation at the eleventh hour? Or perhaps--"
Obi-Wan started, and whirled around in his seat to see his master striding toward the table with a thunderous look on his face. He noticed with horror that his shields were slipping; he'd probably been broadcasting horribly over the training bond. He struggled to maintain at least a semblance of proper serenity.
His master reached the table and leaned over Knight Morai, who met his flashing eyes unflinchingly.
"What in the nine hells have you been saying to my Padawan?" Master Jinn demanded.
"We were discussing my studies, Master," Obi-Wan said, tightening his grip on his shields again. A near-failure he might be, but he was no crècheling needing protection from the truth. He cleared his throat. "Master," he said. "May I be excused?"
His master looked at him sharply, but nodded. "Of course, Obi-Wan," he said. "Try not to be too long."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan rose and hurried to the public freshers, his throat tight and eyes stinging. He just needed a little time to regain his composure, to shore up his shielding and release his emotions into the Force.
He bit his lip. Just a little time alone.
Qui-Gon watched silently as his apprentice walked towards the freshers. Kenobi's back was rigidly straight, his head high; Bellan had seen men walk to their executions with such a posture. As she watched, the wavering pulse of emotion that had been seeping off him vanished. Despite her misgivings, she was impressed; it was well done for a child of that age, especially one under such stress.
Kenobi vanished around a corner and Qui-Gon sat down beside her. She drew a steadying breath and turned; with an effort, she stopped herself from flinching at the look on his face. It had been a very long time since she'd seen him look so angry.
"You are going to tell me what you did to upset my apprentice," Qui-Gon said. "No prevarication."
"I asked him why you did not choose him for your Padawan until he was so old," she said flatly, refusing to be intimidated. There would be no averting the coming storm; she might as well tell him the worst at the outset. "I said that he must have shown some defect to cause you to wait for it to be corrected, or perhaps it was merely a lack of excellence on his part, though I was surprised that my master would take a pity Padawan when his dedication to excellence is so well known."
He closed his eyes, and his face grew very still. "You said these things to Obi-Wan?"
She recognized the tremble in his jaw that meant he was releasing large amounts of anger into the Force. "I said many of them and implied the others." She refused to look away. This was for Qui-Gon's own good, whether he could see it or not, and she would not be ashamed of protecting him.
Without opening his eyes, Qui-Gon spoke.
"Tell me why you did this."
"It had to be done," she said, feeling tension rising along her spine. She and Qui-Gon had been arguing for nearly twenty-five years, but they hadn't actually fought very much. She hated it.
"Ah, of course," said Qui-Gon. "Obviously I had overlooked the portion of the Code that instructs the Jedi to attack their children. Or is there something about Obi-Wan in particular that makes him deserve to be hurt?"
"It's not a matter of deserving it," she said, struggling to keep her voice as impassive as his own, trying to make him understand. "It's a matter of being sure that he can withstand the pressures of being Jedi. He'll suffer much worse hurts than that before he's Knighted, if he ever makes it that far."
"He will," Qui-Gon said. "I have every confidence."
"Well, I don't," she said bitterly, her voice strained. "I have no reason to."
"You have my word!" He leaned forward, pinning her with his gaze. "I know I'm not your partner or your Master anymore, but I thought you still had some respect for me."
She met his eyes squarely, craning her neck to see his face but not backing off. "This isn't a matter of respect," she hissed. "The last time I talked to you, Master, you were never going to teach again, and now you're willing to risk everything on some snip of a kid you pulled off the Agri-Corps shuttle. You're obviously not thinking clearly!"
He pulled back, glaring. "I fail to see how my decisions are any of your concern."
"You arrogant bastard." She leaned in, lowering her voice. She would not embarrass the Order by having a shouting match in the middle of Jelburri Plaza. "The years you were my teacher make it my concern," she said. "The years you were my partner, the years you were my friend, and the three fucking years I just spent watching you eat yourself alive over Xanatos make it my concern! I will not let that happen again just because you can't resist a little Jedi washout with a pair of pleading eyes!" She caught her breath, almost a sob, and cursed her weakness. "I won't."
Something changed in Qui-Gon's face, and he laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Oh, Bellan," he said, and his voice was sad. "Have I hurt you so much in my grief?" He sighed. "Perhaps I shouldn't teach, if I continue to wound my students unknowingly."
She could feel him sending a calming pulse of the Force through their faded bond, and her anger receded. "You couldn't stop teaching if you wanted to, Qui-Gon," she said wearily. "That's what worries me so. You see a being that you think needs you and you'll throw everything away for it, regardless of whether your actions are wise or necessary or even desired. And I fear that in the end you'll throw away too much."
He took her hands, holding them gently between his own in the way that he had since she'd been fifteen and broken three fingers in a speeder accident. Even now, the warmth of his hands eased a tiny, almost-subconscious ache that had remained after the bones had been knitted. "Your concern honors me, Bellan," he said, voice soft. "But you do not need to protect me from Obi-Wan. He will not betray me."
"He's so young, Qui-Gon," she said, looking down at their hands. "How can you be sure?"
"I think that if you make an effort to get to know Obi-Wan, you'll be able to answer that question for yourself," he said. "He has been tested enough, Bellan. He deserves to be allowed to grow on his own time. Can you do this for me?"
She sighed. "You don't play fair. I hope you know that."
"Master i'Purna didn't spend eleven years teaching me how to be fair."
"No," she said, "that he didn't." She pulled her hands out from his, gently. "All right. You have my word. No more tests for now."
"Good," he said mildly, gesturing for her to sit down. "I brought you a cinnamon ice; you'll have to eat it on the transport. And you will be apologizing to Obi-Wan when he returns."
It would be moderately humiliating, she thought, but probably worth it to restore harmony with Qui-Gon. "Fair enough," she said, and removed the lid from her ice.
"In fact," said Qui-Gon, "here he is now. Obi-Wan, I brought you an ice."
"Thank you, Master," the boy said. Bellan looked at him sharply; the rims of his eyes were red, but he was calm and composed, his shields impeccable.
"Padawan Kenobi," she said, and he looked at her sharply, making an aborted movement towards Qui-Gon before drawing himself up sternly.
"I find that I owe you an apology," she said. "I ought not to have spoken as I did; I seem to forget after so much time in the field that not everyone I meet is a subject for interrogation."
His eyes flicked to Qui-Gon and back before he seemed to relax a little, and offered her a very correct bow. "Your apology is accepted, Knight Morai," he said formally.
"Very good," said Qui-Gon. "Come, get your ices and let's go. We wouldn't want Obi-Wan to miss his saber class."
Obi-Wan took the frosted container his master handed him. "Thank you, Master," he said again, noting happily that it was lemon. He wondered if knowing a person's favorite ice flavor was something all masters had to learn to do, or if it was simply a talent of Master Jinn's.
"You're welcome," his master said, and headed off towards the transport stop. Obi-Wan hung back a bit, looking at Knight Morai. She looked back, steadily, as though waiting for a challenge.
Obi-Wan drew a breath and centered himself more deeply. She might be his senior in the Line, but she was not his master and he was not going to spend his apprenticeship worrying about her opinion of him. Anyway, it wasn't as though anything he did at this point would make her think any worse of him than she already did.
"I'm not sure what you were hoping to gain with that little intimidation session," he said, his voice quiet but as firm as he could make it. "You weren't exactly subtle about it, which is only to be expected in someone who had to retake her Senior Diplomacy quals twice. Did you hope I would get angry at you, or go running to my Master in tears? I may be one of his pity cases, Knight Morai, but I am still a Jedi."
"I needed to see how you'd react," she said. "His life will depend on you."
He faced her squarely, drawing his shoulders back. "I appreciate the fact that you care for my master, but he doesn't need your protection, not from me. I am not Xanatos, Bellan Morai. I will not betray my master, and I will not Turn."
She looked at him for a long moment, her narrowed eyes still coolly appraising but no longer hostile. "See that you don't," she said, "and things will go well with you." She turned on her heel and strode off after Master Jinn.
Obi-Wan followed slowly, eating a bite of his ice. All in all, he thought, it had gone surprisingly well. He didn't like to think about what might have happened if Knight Morai had chosen to fight back.
He sank into his seat on the transport in relief, feeling as though he'd just run ten kilometers. He didn't know how he was going to do saber class in twenty minutes.
The transport ride back to the Temple was largely silent.
They arrived at the Temple with only a few minutes to spare. Obi-Wan shot his master an imploring look and received a nod in reply; he hurried off towards the training wing, not quite running but coming as close to it as Jedi dignity would allow.
"Beginning saber?" Bellan asked, inclining her head toward Obi-Wan's retreating figure.
"High Beginners, actually," Qui-Gon said.
"Isn't he a bit young for that?"
"Obi-Wan needed the challenge," Qui-Gon said. "I was going to observe him today; you're welcome to join me if you haven't anything else scheduled." He gave her a pointed look. "You may find the experience enlightening."
In other words, he was going to enjoy seeing her proved wrong about something. She looked in the direction Obi-Wan had gone. "Well, then," she said, "by all means let us go watch him."
All of the training rooms in the Temple were equipped for observation. Some, like the Grand Salle in the center of the Temple, had tiered seating enough for large numbers of spectators; most, however, had either a few rows of benches or a shielded observation gallery.
The High Beginners lightsaber class was the first one to introduce the aerial moves of the Fourth Form, and the last prerequisite for the first Standard Saber sequence. Bellan had been fifteen when she'd taken High Beginners; Obi-Wan was either quite advanced for his age or was being pushed by his Master into a class he wasn't ready for-- probably the former. Qui-Gon had his moments of spectacular blindness, but he was an excellent teacher.
Qui-Gon and Bellan took their seats in the elevated gallery that overlooked the floor, which was divided into twenty large squares, each of which was of adequate size for a pair of students to spar. The class had already begun, and the students were lined up in neat rows, doing a warm-up kata.
Obi-Wan was in the front row, easy to pick out; his form was very good, but he was easily head and shoulders smaller than most of the other students. She raised an amused eyebrow at Qui-Gon.
"I suppose after sparring with you, he's not intimidated by bigger children," she said wryly.
Qui-Gon grinned. "Size matters not," he said mildly.
"Ah, the enduring wisdom of the Line of Yoda," she said, relaxing into the teasing conversation with relief.
"Just as well for you," he said. "You're still the same height you were when you were fourteen."
"And you were quite happy about that on Ledura V when someone had to crawl through seven kilometers of conduit," she said.
"The Force presents us with opportunities according to our gifts," he said. The class was breaking into pairs for their opening spar, where they would be expected to show the results of their practice since the last class. Qui-Gon leaned forward, watching as Obi-Wan made his way to his assigned square.
"We've been doing a lot of work on his low offense," he said.
"Not the high guard?" She remembered drilling her high guard for untold hours when she was in High Beginners.
"He gets plenty of work on his high guard," Qui-Gon said, as Obi-Wan saluted his opponent, a sturdily built Twi'lek boy.
"I imagine he does," Bellan said, eyeing the pair. "It seems like he'd spend all his spars running around the square while his opponent rains down blows from above."
The teaching Master gave the signal to begin, and the pairs began to spar. Obi-Wan surprised Bellan by taking the offensive almost from the first, fighting with a fierce energy. She watched carefully for signs of dangerous aggression, but found none. Obi-Wan was bold but not angry; his opponent would have been quickly defeated were it not for his superior strength and reach. He managed to drive Obi-Wan to the corner of the square, where it looked as though he would either have to take a hit or step out of the boundary, conceding the match, though he held his ground doggedly against his partner's attacks.
"He should concede," Bellan said. "No use wearing himself out." Obi-Wan would have an extended lesson in new techniques after the opening spar, and then one or more practice spars after that; he would need to conserve energy.
"Not yet," said Qui-Gon, just as Obi-Wan managed to execute a neat somersault over the other boy's head and tag him in the left shoulder.
"He also has determination on his side," Qui-Gon said, looking smug.
Bellan watched as Obi-Wan bowed respectfully to his opponent, and then said something to him; the other boy laughed and nudged Obi-Wan playfully.
"I must admit, I wouldn't have been such a good sport if I'd beaten someone that much larger than me at that age," she said, watching Obi-Wan smile sunnily up at the boy he'd just defeated.
"He and Jendril were in Mid Beginners together," Qui-Gon said. "They get paired fairly often, and have become friends." He shot her a look. "You, on the other hand, were always a bit too intense about your training to socialize with your sparring partners."
"Say what you mean, Qui-Gon," she said, watching as the students lined up for forms instruction. "I was a bad winner and a worse loser."
"I'm glad to see Master i'Purna's copious meditations on self-knowledge weren't wasted, at least," he said, his eyes tracking Obi-Wan's blue blade as he stepped through a deflection technique at one-eighth speed.
"I did eventually realize that it's quite unbecoming for a Jedi to gloat," she said wryly. "Which, I imagine, is why you pointedly aren't bringing up your Padawan's obvious fine qualities."
"Have you already given up the idea that I'm nurturing a viper at my breast?" he said, his voice sharpened a little. "I must admit, I find that surprising. You don't usually concede so easily."
"He's a persuasive boy," she said, sorry that she'd brought the subject up again. The students were up to half-speed now, forty blades flashing in measured, elegant arcs.
"More than I knew, apparently, if he's managed to change your mind about him in between the Plaza and the transport stop," Qui-Gon said. "What on earth did he say to you?"
She snorted a laugh. "He told me to go to hell."
Qui-Gon turned towards her, his face almost shocked. "He did what?"
"He did! Although he said it a bit more politely," she said. "He told me that my intimidation tactics were laughably obvious, although perhaps not surprising from someone who had to retake the SenDip quals twice, and that regardless of what sort of paranoid notions I had about him, he was not, in fact, Xanatos, and had no intention of Turning, or of betraying you, which he seems to regard as the greater crime."
"He's always been such a polite child," Qui-Gon murmured, staring down at where his apprentice was weaving a net of blue light around himself as he went through the pattern at full speed.
"Only to a point, apparently," Bellan said, "which makes me feel much better about him, to tell the truth. I don't trust anyone who's always polite to me." Xanatos, for instance, had always been unfailingly courteous when they met, and had never shown his true feelings until the day he'd raised his saber against his own Master.
Qui-Gon snorted. "Of that, I was aware," he said. "There's a reason you always did the information gathering while I was talking to the government officials."
"The Force never meant me for a diplomat," she agreed cheerfully. Although she would be well served by developing more of it, she had always loathed diplomacy.
"Yes, and you were always a bit too happy to admit it," he said.
"I am resigned to the Will of the Force," she said, keeping her mouth a prim little line.
He tugged her braid gently. "Bellan, you've never been resigned to anything."
"You know me well." She leaned back in her seat letting her arm brush Qui-Gon's as they watched the students drill. She had missed him a great deal.
She studied Obi-Wan without conscious thought, watching the patterns his movements made, and frowned a little. "His supporting leg is shaky," she said.
"Yes," said Qui-Gon. "He seems unusually tired today. I can't imagine why."
She recalled the exhausted slump Obi-Wan's shoulders had taken on in the transport back to the Temple and felt a wash of remorse. She kept her eyes fixed on the students as they paired up for their final spar, where they'd be expected to use the techniques they had just learned. Obi-Wan was lining up beside a slim human girl only a little taller than he was.
"Is she going to be an easier opponent," she said, "or a more difficult one?"
"Much more difficult," Qui-Gon said. "She's two years older than he is and every bit as fast. She'll give him trouble." He raised an eyebrow. "As I imagine you're quite well aware."
She grinned. "Everyone underestimates the little girl until she's got a saber to their balls," she said, and he laughed.
"Indeed," he said. "It's a lesson I think Obi-Wan is quickly going to take to heart."
They watched as the match began. It quickly became apparent that Obi-Wan was having considerable difficulty with his opponent, who was keeping him busy defending against a barrage of attacks. Twice he managed to avoid what looked like a sure hit, but was never able to regain his momentum enough to go on the offensive for long. Still, he fought doggedly. He'd obviously spent most of his training defending against larger opponents; she wondered if Qui-Gon had gotten him sparring partners of his own size in tutorial.
Below them, Obi-Wan dodged a blow, and while his opponent was overextended he jumped, flying over her head in an attempt to catch her off-guard as he'd done to Jendril earlier. But he'd misjudged his timing and came out of the flip too late, staggering on his landing and throwing his arms wide to regain his balance. While he was open, his opponent pivoted neatly and tagged him in the middle of the chest.
Bellan sighed, and then turned to glare at Qui-Gon when he chuckled, feeling sheepish; she'd hoped that Obi-Wan would win. At least then she wouldn't have had to feel bad about wearing him out with interrogation over his lunch.
"Engaging, isn't it?" he said mildly.
"I've always loved a good saber match," she said.
"You and Obi-Wan have that in common, then," Qui-Gon said. "I sometimes think he spends all his rest allotments watching the Knights and Masters spar."
She laughed. "He's probably trying to pick up ideas," she said.
"I remember when you tried to do a Yandrip Feint in tutorial and almost cut off your own head," he said. "I should hope that Obi-Wan would have more sense than to attempt techniques he isn't ready for."
"I just didn't realize you kicked off the near leg," she said. "I almost had it, and I would have beaten you if I'd gotten it right."
"And that's worth a scorched neck?"
"Beating you would have been," she said. "I had a standing bet with Toril Narr that if I ever got you two falls out of three, he'd buy me a three-course meal off-Temple." Bellan watched as the class filed into the locker rooms. "Do you have tutorial with Obi-Wan today?"
"I do tutorial with him every day he has classes," Qui-Gon said, rising and gesturing for her to follow.
"Why so often?"
"Older initiate classes are different from the Padawan classes, and Obi-Wan got more advanced in some areas than others," Qui-Gon said. "He's ahead in maths and sciences but behind in cultures and fine arts, and right on track for his age in history and philosophy. I'm doing some external work with him so he can start Intermediate Astronavigation next cycle and the Cultural Surveys sequence the cycle after that."
She shuddered at the memory of Cultural Surveys, a series of courses on the cultures of major Republic worlds. "I hated Cultural Surveys," she said.
"Well, the information is a bit shallow," Qui-Gon said, "but they do well enough considering the time constraints they're under, and I can always supplement later."
"I'm going to remember you said that," she said, "and then when Obi-Wan is doing the unit on Krutuni shriek-choirs, I'm going to come over when you have a headache and laugh."
"You would, too. You have no respect for your poor old Master."
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, the fifteen eternal years that separate us make you a truly ancient being." They walked in companionable silence for a bit.
"Qui-Gon," she said at last, "have you thought about having Obi-Wan spar with someone closer to his size in tutorial? He fights as though his opponents are much bigger than he is, regardless of their size-- I think with a few adaptations to his technique he would have won both his matches today."
"We haven't spent much time on-Temple since I took Obi-Wan as my Padawan," he said, looking pleased, "but I had intended to recruit someone to do that within the next cycle or two, as scheduling permits."
"I could show him a little," she offered. "Nothing too advanced, since I don't know when I'll be sent out again, but at least a few foundational techniques, some tricks I've picked up on missions, that sort of thing. If you think he'd be able to forgive me enough to work with me, that is."
Qui-Gon beamed. "If he hadn't forgiven you before, Bellan, he certainly would do so at an offer like that. Lightsaber is his favorite discipline."
"Perhaps early next week, then?" she suggested. "I should still be in-Temple then."
"I'll send you a message," he said, and smiled at her.
Obi-Wan stopped at a public terminal after Modern Republic History and checked his schedule. He had daily tutorials with his master in the afternoons, but they were always in a different place; he never knew whether he'd be told to report to the library, a training room, or one of the Temple gardens. Today, he was to meet his master in their quarters. He felt a little relieved; days when they met at home were generally less strenuous, given to review sessions or discussions of concepts Obi-Wan was covering in his readings.
He arrived promptly and began setting his study materials out on the table.
"Good, you're home," said his master, coming out of the kitchen with a glass in his hand. "Would you like some juice?"
"Yes, Master, thank you," Obi-Wan said, accepting the cool glass.
"How was history?" Master Jinn asked, going back into the kitchen and returning with his own glass.
"It was interesting," he said. "We talked about the Nintari uprisings."
His master nodded. "I thought you'd probably be getting there soon. Tell me, what do you think about Ambassador Kiron's position?"
Obi-Wan thought about it. The ambassador in question had been one of the early negotiators sent by the Senate, and had spent the better part of six months making strident but ineffectual attempts to cajole the parties into agreement. He'd been discussed in the background readings, but largely passed over in classroom discussion in favor of the later efforts of Jedi Master Ulom, who had succeeded in drafting a peace agreement acceptable to all parties in the dispute.
"He seemed genuine in his desire for a peaceful resolution," he said. "But his efforts were ineffective because he failed to take into account the role of the Cheneshi religion in the hostilities."
"You are not the first to say so," said his master. "However, how does your theory explain the behavior of Nardelle Jen? She was not a practitioner of Chenesh, nor were any of her family or close friends."
Obi-Wan was quiet for a moment, recalling what he knew about the senator from Nintarrn. "She wasn't Cheneshi," he said finally, "but she was brought up in the Handra province and seems to have adopted Jen'Handra values. Since she was elected to be the representative of her people, to have acted in a way contrary to their religion would have violated her oath and shamed her family."
His master smiled at him. "An insightful analysis," he said.
Obi-Wan wanted to ask if it was the correct one, but stopped himself. If he asked, Master Jinn would just say something about there being no one right answer in diplomacy and give him three opposing viewpoints to read, and an essay.
"Have I overlooked anything important?" he asked instead.
"I think you have a good grasp of the fundamentals," his master replied. "Especially given your current knowledge of the situation. I'm going to assign you some further background reading, and next week you can tell me if you've refined your theory further. Don't read any scholarly analysis of the situation until I tell you otherwise; I want to hear your thoughts on the matter."
At least it wasn't an essay. Yet.
Obi-Wan nodded respectfully. "Yes, Master."
"You've had a busy day," his master continued. "I think we can cut the tutorial a bit short this time. Perhaps you could sleep a little before dinner."
Obi-Wan felt himself blushing. He thought he'd been hiding his fatigue rather well; he shored up his shielding just in case. "I can finish the lesson, Master."
Master Jinn sighed a little and brushed a hand over his hair, ruffling it. "Of course you can, Padawan, but there's no need. You've worked ahead of schedule lately; you can afford a little time off."
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan said, "but really, I'm fine to work." He looked at his master suspiciously; he'd never been told to take a nap before, unless he was ill. Perhaps Master Jinn had something else to do?
"I can just work by myself, Master, if you need to be doing something else," he offered.
"You are, of course, welcome to read, Obi-Wan, but there's no shame in resting when you're given the chance," said Master Jinn. "Even Master Yoda naps from time to time. Remember, he fell asleep the last time we were over to tea."
"Master!" Obi-Wan regarded him with shock. "Master Yoda was meditating."
His Master laughed. "Even Master Yoda doesn't snore when he meditates, Padawan. He was sleeping. Just as we meditate to refresh our minds, we must sleep to refresh our bodies, so as to be ready for whatever use the Force has for us."
Master Jinn raised an eyebrow. "But you don't feel the need for any additional rest today?"
"No, thank you, Master. I've got a lot of work to do."
"At least come sit on the couch while you work," his master said. "Keep me company while I'm going through my messages. Maybe you could work on your reading-- didn't you tell me you still had philosophy to get through?"
"Yes, Master," he said, and took his datapads with him to the couch. He stretched out on his side as he liked to do when he had the couch to himself, carefully making sure the soles of his boots didn't touch the upholstery, and leaned his head on the padded arm. He opened the file to the place he'd left off and started to read. The serenity of the Jedi is the serenity of wholeness, of completion, the perfect point of stillness that results when opposing forces are balanced in totality…
Bellan arrived at Qui-Gon's quarters, and the door slid open as she was reaching for the chime.
"Even if you can sense your guests at the door, Qui-Gon, it's generally considered polite to let them ring the chime before you open it," she said.
Qui-Gon shushed her. "I didn't want you to wake Obi-Wan," he said quietly.
"He admitted to needing a nap?" she said. "I must admit I'm surprised."
"Oh, no, he said flat out that he did not require any additional rest today, thank you Master," Qui-Gon said. "But he agreed to lie on the couch to read his philosophy assignment."
"What unit are they covering?"
"Serenity through balance."
She grinned. In her year, they'd called that unit Serenity Through Snoozing. "You're a sneaky one."
"He needs his rest," Qui-Gon said. "I think he's about to have a growth spurt, he's been eating like a starved rancor lately."
"He's a thirteen-year-old boy, Qui-Gon, he practically is a starved rancor," she said. "And speaking of starving, are you planning to let me in tonight or will I be eating in the hall?"
He stood aside. "I suppose I could accommodate you at the table."
"You have ever been generous, my Master," she said teasingly.
They'd been speaking softly, but as she walked into the common room to sit down Obi-Wan startled awake, dropping the datapad he'd had propped on his chest. He sat up, blinking, and looked down at the blanket covering him with a puzzled look. His hair was flattened on one side and his braid was fuzzy.
"Knight Morai," he said, kicking the blanket aside awkwardly and standing to greet her. "I apologize for my appearance," he said formally. There were lines on his cheek from the seams of the couch.
"It's all right, Padawan Kenobi," she said gently, wishing he hadn't woken so soon. "No harm done."
"Please excuse me," he said, and headed off towards the fresher when she nodded.
Qui-Gon came in and handed her a glass of water.
"So," she said, taking a drink. "Where are my pepper cakes?"
"Shhh," he said, looking over his shoulder towards the freshers. "They're in my room, I'll give them to you later."
She blinked at him, puzzled. "Is Obi-Wan not supposed to know you give me sweets?"
"It's not that. It's just that he made you a batch himself when he found out you were coming."
"He baked?" Pepper cakes were notoriously difficult to make. She'd had several spectacular failures at it herself before finally deciding that she'd just have to buy them when she had a craving.
"I came home last night and found him in the kitchen, covered with icing." He looked at her levelly. "He had heard me speak of you often and was anxious to make a good impression."
She flushed. Really, it wasn't fair that Qui-Gon could still make her writhe with that I'm So Disappointed In You, Padawan look. "I did apologize."
Obi-Wan emerged from the fresher, damp and a bit pink but impeccably neat, and bowed again. "I'm afraid I fell asleep over my reading," he said. "I'm very sorry for my poor manners, Knight Morai."
"It's fine," she said. "I can't count the number of times I did the same thing when I was your age."
Qui-Gon laughed. "That's an understatement," he said. "You slept constantly at that age. I know for a fact that Master i'Purna wanted the healers to test you for narcolepsy, but they told him you were just growing."
"He did not," she said.
"Perhaps it was thyroid deficiency," Qui-Gon said thoughtfully. She swatted his arm. "He must drive you mad," she said to Obi-Wan, who was watching with wide eyes.
"No, ma'am," Obi-Wan said, his voice managing to be perfectly cordial while still suggesting that it would be disrespectful and un-Jedi-like to be driven mad by one's master. "Shall I prepare the tea, Master?"
"Go ahead, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said. "Thank you."
Obi-Wan smiled at his master and vanished into the kitchen.
Obi-Wan put the kettle on and began gathering dishes and food. He and Master Jinn usually had tea and a snack during Obi-Wan's afternoon tutorial and then ate a light meal late in the evening, but tonight they were going to have sandwiches and a late tea with Knight Morai. Obviously, it was the Will of the Force that he learn to maintain his serenity under all circumstances.
He sliced vegetables and arranged them on plates while he waited for the water to boil, and cleared his datapads off the table to make room for the dishes. He'd thought they could have a nice light meal, with sandwiches and cakes at tea. His master had been very pleased at the suggestion.
"Knight Morai," he said politely, "do you take your tea the way Master Jinn takes his?"
"Skies, no," she said, laughing. "I'd sooner drink mud. I like mine about half that strong, with sugar. You needn't make two pots, though, I can just dilute mine with hot water."
"You ruin the flavor that way," Master Jinn said. "Might as well be drinking sweetened hot water and forego the tea altogether."
"There's no flavor to ruin in that Dagobahn swamp water you call tea," Knight Morai retorted, and Obi-Wan went back to the kitchen, wondering how his Master and Knight Morai had ever been effective in the field arguing as much as they did. Of course, his master acted much the same way when he was talking to Master Yoda, with every evidence of enjoyment. Perhaps the Line selected for argumentativeness. It might explain all the essays.
The kettle boiled, and Obi-Wan poured water into two pots; he'd make one strong for his master and one normal strength for himself and Knight Morai. While the tea steeped, he pulled out the stasis dish he'd put in the cabinet and removed the lid. He'd tried to make Thyferran pepper cakes, which his master had mentioned were Knight Morai's favorite. He was tempted not to serve them at all; she'd probably hate them anyway, and Force knew she didn't need any *further* reason to hate him, even if Master Jinn did seem to be making her be nice now. His master had seen him trying to ice the Sith-accursed things the night before, and if Obi-Wan failed to produce them at tea he might ask about them, and then Obi-Wan would have to explain himself in front of Knight Morai, who already thought he was a failure waiting to happen. Bad enough that she thought he couldn't even do his work without falling asleep like a child; he wasn't about to give her any room for criticism of his master's hospitality.
He set his jaw, and started transferring the tiny square cakes to a serving platter, picking them up with the sugar tongs. He had no idea if they had turned out properly; the icing had to cure after it was applied and the cakes had only been ready that afternoon. He hesitated. Thyferran pepper cakes were spicier than he liked, but Madame Denarre had encouraged him to try one when he'd gone to her for advice on making them. "It doesn't matter whether you like the flavor, child," she'd said. "You just need to be able to recognize it, so you'll know when you've got it right."
His tongue has burned for the rest of the afternoon, but he knew what a properly made pepper cake was supposed to taste like.
The cakes were a favored delicacy on their planet of origin, eaten to celebrate a religious festival in honor of the gods of fire and ice. The cakes and the icing each contained a different native spice; when combined in the presence of moisture, the two compounds produced an endothermic chemical reaction, cooling the mouth of the being eating the cake. The novelty of the combination of spicy cake and cooling sweet icing was responsible for the dish's great popularity on other planets, where the cakes were customarily decorated with stylized blue and scarlet flames.
Obi-Wan had ruined five cakes before he'd given up on the flame pattern; even with the aid of the Force, there was only so much one could learn to do in a limited time. He'd settled for tinting the frosting scarlet and blue, and piping on scrollwork designs in contrasting colors.
He picked up the first cake he'd done, the one where the icing was tinted the wrong color, and popped it into his mouth. As he chewed, he felt the cake cool the inside of his mouth until he felt like he'd been eating ices, while at the same time his tongue burned. The cakes might look amateurish, but they tasted right; Madame Denarre would be pleased that he'd managed to do it properly.
He arranged everything on the table and eyed it. It looked good, he thought. Even the most unreasonable of guests would be hard-pressed to find something to criticize.
"Master, tea is ready," he said, when his master and Knight Morai had reached a lull in their conversation.
"Thank you, Padawan," his master said, rising.
"It looks lovely, Obi-Wan," Knight Morai said, taking her seat. He felt a flash of annoyance at her; the least she could do was at least be consistently hateful. Of course, he thought glumly, she had probably seen him drooling on himself on the couch, and decided he was too incompetent to do any damage.
"Thank you, Knight Morai," he said, bowing.
Bellan watched Obi-Wan pour the tea. His manners and composure were flawless, and ever since the incident at lunch he'd been treating her to an icily perfect courtesy and adamantine shielding. She sighed. She obviously needed to work on her tactics; there was probably a way to have reassured herself of the boy's suitability without having made an enemy of him.
She set her jaw. Well, then. She'd just have to do things the hard way. She'd won the trust of crime lords, slavers, corrupt princes, even minor Republic bureaucrats. Surely she could manage one defensive Jedi Padawan with hurt feelings.
She eyed the plate of pepper cakes dubiously, hoping that they tasted all right; she'd have to be appreciative of them regardless, and badly made pepper cakes could be horrifyingly disgusting, as she knew from her own failed attempts at them.
She noticed that Obi-Wan was drinking the weaker tea she favored, rather than Qui-Gon's swamp mud. Good. Maybe they could bond over how horrible the stuff was-- although she'd have to be careful not to seem to be disparaging Qui-Gon; the kid had been downright frosty when she'd been teasing his master before.
*Face facts, Morai,* she thought. *The kid obviously thinks the moons rise at Qui-Gon's will; Xanatos, may his balls rot in the ninth hell, thought that the galaxy was organized for his own convenience. Qui-Gon couldn't have picked a more loyal apprentice if he'd devoted all his time for a year to the search. And Kenobi would have probably transferred a part of that loyalty to you out of respect for his Master if you hadn't come in like a Grand Inquisitor and fucked it up.*
She sighed. There was going to be meditation on arrogance in her future. Her knees twinged in anticipation.
She finished her sandwich and reached for a cake, taking tight hold of her control. If it was bad, she could absolutely *not* make a face.
Stars, he'd even iced them. The scrollwork decorations were a little crooked, but the colors were beautifully vivid.
"Thank you for these, Obi-Wan," she said. "This is my favorite dessert, and you don't find them much outside the big cities, especially not out on the Rim where I've been."
"You're quite welcome, Knight Morai," he said. "I was glad to be able to provide them."
The kid would make one hell of a diplomat when he grew up. It took most people *years* to master the ability to convey dislike without saying a single thing anyone could find offensive.
She bit into the cake and nearly dropped it in surprise as the cooling reaction burst over her tongue. Cool sweetness and tingling spice: the kid had somehow managed to get the perfect balance.
"*Damn,* Obi-Wan!" she said, reaching for another cake. "Those are fantastic. How on earth did you manage to get the icing to react properly?"
Obi-Wan went a bit pink, the remnants of the couch lines on his face standing out. "I asked Madame Denarre," he said. "She told me that you have to make sure that the Thyfer spice is powdered, not just ground."
"They taste perfect," she said. "I'm very impressed." She put two more cakes on her plate. They were small, after all, and she'd had a long day.
She definitely needed to get the kid on her side.
Things were easier after they had finished eating. Obi-Wan seized gratefully on the chance to clear the table and wash up, leaving out the teapots and the plate of pepper cakes for his Master and Knight Morai, who were arguing over whose fault it had been when they'd blown up a spaceport on Alteri VII. He listened to them from the kitchen, wondering which of them was right. Maybe he could get Master Yoda to tell him.
Obi-Wan finished the dishes and dried his hands, then went back into the common area, picking up his datapads to go back to the philosophy reading he hadn't finished before tea. He paused for a moment, wondering whether he should go into his own room, or if he would be able to concentrate enough if he sat on the couch while Master Jinn and Knight Morai were talking. He finally decided ruefully that he was almost certain to find their conversation more interesting than his readings on serenity, and wouldn't get anything done if he stayed within earshot. He was halfway to his room when his Master called after him.
"Obi-Wan, where are you going?"
"I was going to study, Master, since I didn't finish my philosophy earlier."
"You've got a week to finish it, Padawan," he said. "I think you may safely be excused from your studies for the evening. We would enjoy your company."
Obi-Wan wasn't so sure about that, but he tried not to let his doubts show in his tone. "Thank you, Master," he said. Master Jinn smiled at him, filling his teacup a final time before taking it over to his favorite chair. Knight Morai took her own cup, and the plate of pepper cakes. They were more than half gone, and Obi-Wan couldn't help feeling a bit smug. Apparently he wasn't a dismal failure in *all* ways.
Knight Morai sat on the edge of the couch closest to Master Jinn's chair, perching her dishes on the table beside it and tucking her feet up under her. She didn't seem to be worried about marking the upholstery with her boots. Obi-Wan hesitated in the doorway. He didn't particularly want to sit with Knight Morai, but the only other chair was clear on the other side of the room. If he sat there it would be obvious what he was doing, and his Master would be unhappy with him.
"Master, would it be all right if I…" he paused, thinking frantically. "…worked on my puzzle while we talk?"
"Of course, Obi-Wan." His Master smiled, and Obi-Wan ducked into his room. The puzzle in question was actually meant as a training exercise, as it couldn't be solved without judicious and delicate use of the Force, but Obi-Wan enjoyed the challenge. At least this way he could get some productive work done instead of wasting an evening trying to be sociable. He picked it up from his small desk and carried it into the common room, where he sat on the floor at his Master's feet, resting his back against his chair, and set the puzzle down in front of him. It always took him a little while to get back into the flow of it after he'd left off, and he turned his senses to the intricate bit of latticework that he'd been working on last time, his Master's resumed conversation with Knight Morai a relaxing murmur in the background.
Some minutes later he found the flaw in the pattern, and a small twist in the Force had the section snapping into place. The puzzle glowed blue for a moment, and Obi-Wan lifted his head, easing the tightness in his shoulders from concentrating. Master Jinn and Knight Morai were discussing the seminar in unarmed combat that Master Rilkatha was going to be teaching soon.
"I had thought of signing up," Knight Morai said, "but I don't know that I'll be in-Temple long enough to complete it."
Master Jinn shook his head. "I don't think it would be worth your while, Bellan," he said. "Rilkatha's a good instructor, but he's doing very basic techniques and very little in the way of tactics. Not like Master i'Purna."
"Nobody's like Master i'Purna," Knight Morai said, smiling a little sadly. "He was a truly unique being."
"I remember when you had your first unarmed combat tutorial," Master Jinn said. "You were fresh from the Initiate dorms and still thought that the proper answer to every question was 'because the Force is with us.'"
"Well, it *was* the proper answer in the Initiate classes," she said. "That was what you were expected to say to everything. Why is a Jedi never truly unarmed? Because the Force is with us. Why does a Jedi meditate? To be in tune with the Force, which is always with us. I think once I'd been doing my philosophy homework and I told one of the supervising Knights that I'd left my boots in the middle of the floor because the Force was with me." She eyed the plate of pepper cakes at her elbow as though considering whether to eat another one. "I did a lot of washing floors and assisting the cafeteria staff when I was an Initiate."
Obi-Wan hid a smile, picturing a very small Knight Morai peeling tubers in the kitchen.
"Anyway," she continued, "I soon learned not to try the standard answers with my Master. He had a decidedly twisty brain."
"He did, at that," Master Jinn agreed. "I can't count the number of times I've recalled his advice in the field."
"The first law of unarmed combat is 'find something to use as a weapon,'" Knight Morai said. "The first law of *armed* combat is--"
"Disarm your opponent as quickly as possible!" Master Jinn finished the sentence with her.
It sounded sensible enough to Obi-Wan. He knew that Master i'Purna and Master Jinn had trained Knight Morai together, when his Master was only a young Knight, but he'd never heard very much *about* the older Jedi, only that he had been a master of strategy and had died before his Padawan was Knighted, leaving Qui-Gon Jinn to finish her training.
"What if you can't find anything near you to use as a weapon?" he asked, forgetting that he had intended to just sit quietly while the others talked.
Knight Morai laughed. "There's *always* something to use as a weapon," she said. "A rock, a table, a branch, a patch of sand, an unattended sandwich--"
"You can't fight with a *sandwich*!" Obi-Wan said, then stopped short, horrified at his outburst.
"That's the same reaction I had," she said, grinning at him over her teacup. "Master made me write an essay about ways that a sandwich could be my ally in battle."
Obi-Wan thought about it, his curiosity overpowering the voice in the back of his head that was telling him to be quiet and try not to attract her attention. "I suppose you could take it apart and use the spread to make the floor slippery," he said, "so that your opponent would lose his footing."
She nodded. "And if you're fighting a Bothan," she said, "nearly all of them have a violent allergy to cheese."
"Have you ever actually had to fight with a sandwich?" he asked. If it was a *hot* sandwich, perhaps you could throw the filling in your opponent's face.
"No," she admitted, "but once at a state dinner I thwarted an assassination attempt with a tureen of vegetable soup."
Master Jinn groaned. "Don't remind me," he said. "I spent the next week apologizing to the Premier for the humiliation of having to appear in public with celery in his beard."
Obi-Wan had to laugh a little at the mental image. He imagined the Premier, who in his head looked very like Crèche Master Ltlan, sputtering and wet, steaming faintly while his Master tried to explain the actions of his apprentice. Or had she even been his apprentice then? For all the stories that he'd heard about Knight Morai, nobody had ever quite explained to him how she came to be apprenticed to two Masters at once. He watched her narrowly; she seemed to be in a good enough mood, and had eaten most of the pepper cakes. He decided to risk it. "Knight Morai?" he said, "may I ask you a question?"
"Of course, Padawan Kenobi," she said.
"How was it that you came to have two Masters at the same time? I didn't think that was allowed."
She looked surprised. "Qui-Gon, you haven't told him that story yet?"
His Master blinked. "I suppose I haven't. It must not have ever come up before."
She rolled her eyes. "He can remember the complete order of succession for sixty-four star systems, but when it comes to anything practical he's nearly useless," she said. "It was really very simple, Obi-Wan. Master i'Purna felt that it was the Will of the Force that he take me as a Padawan, but he was very old and was concerned he wouldn't be able to complete my training."
"He told me once that he saw her in the cafeteria, sneaking her jikquall beans onto the plates of the children on either side of her, and he knew that he was destined to train her," Master Jinn said. "He was so taken aback by the revelation that Master Yoda stole all his cookies when he wasn't paying attention."
"So he went to the Council," Knight Morai continued, "and they agreed that the Force wanted him to teach me, but he wasn't exactly up to heavy field work or hours and hours of physical training anymore. They went round and round for hours, trying to work out how it could be done, when Master Yoda spoke up and told him flat-out that what he needed was an assistant."
"Me," said Master Jinn. "I was a very young Knight and I wanted to do some intensive training in undercover field work and covert operations, and Master i'Purna was the greatest living expert in those areas. My Master informed me that I would get my training, and in exchange I would be helping Master i'Purna with those aspects of his new Padawan's training that he was unable to do himself."
"I did a lot of my field work with Qui-Gon, especially the more physically taxing assignments," Knight Morai said. "And he did most of my combat training, especially as I got older. My Master rejoined the Force when I was a Senior Padawan, and Qui-Gon petitioned the Council to complete my apprenticeship himself, and that's what happened."
"It was an unconventional arrangement," Master Jinn said, "but I think it worked well, on the whole." He smiled at them both, obviously happy that they were talking.
Knight Morai nodded. "I'm only sorry that Master i'Purna wasn't there to see me Knighted," she said. "I had wanted to give him my braid."
"But you gave it to Master Jinn?" Obi-Wan had seen it, hanging in a display case in his Master's office.
"I cut it in half," she said. "I gave half to Qui-Gon, and then we burned the other half on the pyre."
They were silent for a moment. Obi-Wan tried to imagine being Knighted without his Master there to see it, and felt an unpleasant chill in his stomach. Suddenly, he felt much more charitable towards Knight Morai.
Bellan sighed a little, remembering. Qui-Gon was very dear to her and always would be, but no Master could ever fully replace the one who had Chosen her to be his Padawan. She had known from the beginning that he would probably be rejoining the Force during her apprenticeship; he had explained it to her before they had bonded, giving her the opportunity to stay in the crèche if she liked, in hopes of finding a younger Master. She had refused flatly to even consider doing that, though. For whatever time was given them, she knew that he was meant to be her teacher.
She looked at the way Obi-Wan sat at Qui-Gon's feet, leaning happily against his leg. His puzzle glowed blue as he solved another section, and Qui-Gon ruffled his hair absently, sipping his tea. They looked right together, now that she was willing to let herself see it. She was a little disturbed at how far she'd let herself be pushed by her emotions that morning. Obviously she was spending too little time in meditation lately.
"I've been thinking, Bellan," Qui-Gon said. "Do you remember that training exercise that Master i'Purna used to have us do, with the Force-orbs and the Initiate gardens?"
"I could hardly forget it," she said. "I think I spent most of that cycle picking gravel out of my knees."
"Yoda has been after me to do another practical next rotation," he said. "I'd been thinking of adapting that exercise for a group instead of a pair…"
They talked for a while, discussing training methods and exercises. Obi-Wan was quiet, again, but obviously paying attention, his work on the puzzle slowing. Finally, Obi-Wan yawned widely and turned a little pink when Qui-Gon looked down at him.
"Sorry, Master," he said.
She glanced at the chron and was surprised by how late it was. "Skies, Qui-Gon, let the boy go to bed," she said. " You're such a slave driver, I'm sure he's got a full day of classes tomorrow *and* a tutorial."
Obi-Wan drew himself up stiffly, frowning, and she cursed inwardly. She'd forgotten how sensitive he was to any perceived slight of his Master.
"I'll be fine, Master," he said. "I did sleep before tea."
Qui-Gon rested a hand on his shoulder. "That's all right, Obi-Wan. Bellan's right, I should apologize for keeping you up so late. Go in and sleep."
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan said. "Goodnight. Knight Morai." He bowed to her formally as he got to his feet, and went into his bedroom, closing the door behind him.
She was going to have to go to a higher authority with this. Tomorrow, she'd pick up a berry cake and drop by Master Yoda's quarters.
His master never demanded to be told what Obi-Wan did on his rest days, only that if he were going to be late home that he asked permission first. When Master Yoda answered his message with an invitation to tea, Obi-Wan packed up a few of the chocolate cookies he'd made for his master and hurried to Yoda's quarters.
"Glad I was to hear from you, Padawan Kenobi," Yoda said. "Too long has it been since we spoke." He eyed the dish in Obi-Wan's hands. "A present this is?"
"Yes, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan said. "Cookies."
Master Yoda cackled happily. "More often should you visit, young Obi-Wan," he said, levitating some plates in from the kitchen.
Obi-Wan felt awkward, sitting down as Master Yoda waved him into a tiny chair. "I'll ask my Master," he said, bowing respectfully.
"Hmph." Master Yoda shot him an odd look. "Your jailor, is Qui-Gon? A prisoner does he keep you?"
"Functional are your legs," he continued, "and free time you are given. Visit me when you like, you should, without waiting to be taken out like a pet."
Obi-Wan blinked. He had never thought that Yoda might want him to start paying social calls; surely he had many more important demands on his time, and Obi-Wan wasn't even his own apprentice.
Yoda was looking steadily at him. "My Padawan's Padawan you are, much better than a Padawan of my own. Spoil you, I can, then send you home to your Master." He chuckled. "Orphans of the Force, sometimes are the Jedi called, but family the Force always provides. Sometimes in friends, sometimes in partners, very often in Masters and Padawans. Part of my Line, you are, Obi-Wan Kenobi. My business and my joy that makes you." A cup of tea settled in front of Obi-Wan with a thump. "Now, cookies we shall have and your problems you shall tell me, hmmm?"
"Thank you, Master Yoda." Obi-Wan took a cookie, and sipped the tea, which was sweetened the way he liked it.
"When your age he was, sweet tea did Qui-Gon drink also," Yoda said. "Only after his Knighting did he become a tea snob."
Obi-Wan stifled a laugh, and Yoda regarded him over the rim of his teacup.
"Troubled, you are," Yoda said. "Unsettled, by Knight Morai."
"I don't know what she *wants*!" he said. "At first I thought she hated me, and then she seemed to be going to ignore me, and now she seems to want to be friendly. I don't know what she's trying to do, or what she wants, or how I should respond."
"Hurt, you were, when she attacked you in the Plaza," said Yoda.
Obi-Wan had long since given up wondering how Master Yoda came by his vast knowledge of everything going on in the Temple. "Yes, Master."
"Angry, as well, I think."
Obi-Wan bowed his head. "Yes, Master."
Yoda was silent as he ate another cookie, and Obi-Wan clutched his warm tea mug, hoping he hadn't just made Master Yoda ashamed of him, too.
"Love your Master, do you?" Yoda asked at last. "Feel pain, do you, when hurt he is?"
"Of course, Master," Obi-Wan said at once.
"Know, you do, the story of Master i'Purna," Yoda continued. "After he rejoined the Force, very close to Qui-Gon did Knight Morai become. Partners, they were, for many years. This you know."
"Yes, Master Yoda."
"When Qui-Gon gave up their partnership to take a Padawan, abandoned did young Bellan feel. She would not stay in the Temple to do tutorials, and instead a solitary field Knight she became." His ears twitched. "Your master hoped that warm to Xanatos she would in time, but avoid Xanatos she did."
Obi-Wan felt suddenly, fiercely jealous of Xanatos. Chosen early, by a Master who had been so eager to train him that he'd given up a partnership he enjoyed with a Knight he cared for, and ignored by Knight Morai in the bargain, and Xanatos had still Turned. He must have been the biggest fool in the Republic.
Yoda chuckled, and Obi-Wan checked his shielding hurriedly.
"A good thing you think it, to have Knight Morai's indifference," Yoda said, "but very happy would your master be if friends you could become."
"But she doesn't even like me!"
Yoda thumped his stick on the ground, dangerously near Obi-Wan's foot. "Dislike you she does not! Afraid that you would hurt your Master she was. Sad she is also, that with a Padawan to train Qui-Gon will not become her partner once more. But like you she is beginning to." He chuckled. "A berry cake she brought me yesterday," he said. "Advice she sought, on how to regain your trust. Ashamed she is of her behavior. Blinded by jealousy and fear, she was." He looked at Obi-Wan pointedly. "A lesson you should take, Padawan. Never too old is a Jedi to be overcome by emotion. Mindful we must ever be." His eyes took on the distant look that Obi-Wan was learning meant that he was testing the currents of the future. "A good friend, could Knight Morai be to you, yes. A powerful ally, at a time when allies you will sorely need."
Obi-Wan sighed. "So I should try to be her friend," he said.
"Forgive her you should, and let friendship take care of itself," said Yoda. "But make it too easy for Knight Morai, you should not. Too old, is she, for temper tantrums. Lessons should she take from this, too."
Qui-Gon had always liked to hold his saber tutorials in the large practice rooms. He claimed that the presence of other tutorials, classes and sparring matches in the room helped one to develop good concentration skills; Bellan had always privately thought that he was also not averse to having an audience. Also, she remembered more than one occasion where a training remote being used in an adjoining square had "gone berserk" and ended up firing precision beams at her in the middle of a spar.
She wondered if he'd done that to Obi-Wan yet.
Obi-Wan showed up promptly, his practice tunics immaculate. His lightsaber hung at his belt with the dull gleam that she knew came only from diligent polish, the casing as yet unmarred by the variety of scuffs and scratches that every field agent's saber quickly accumulated.
Obi-Wan glanced around the room and made his way toward her. "Knight Morai," he said, with a bow that, while respectful, was not rigidly formal. His shields were lowered slightly, and she could feel a calm attentiveness leaking through. Damn. She was going to owe Yoda a month's supply of cake for this one.
She smiled at him in what she hoped was a welcoming manner. "Good afternoon, Padawan Kenobi," she said. "Qui-Gon left me a message that he expected to be a bit late today, but that we should start warming up with the third kata cycle."
Obi-Wan grinned at her, revealing a flash of dimples. "That means he's going to attack us some time during the last repetition."
She found herself grinning back. Qui-Gon had always done that to her, too; the last repetition of the third kata cycle was traditionally done with closed eyes.
"Just don't let him fool you when he leaves you alone for a while," she advised. "It just means he's trying to lull you into a false sense of security."
Obi-Wan nodded. "At least there's nobody using remotes in here today," he said.
"You learn fast, kid."
He looked rueful. "It only takes once," he said, nodding towards a cluster of students on the far side of the room. "That's my friend Garen's Beginning Saber class," he said. "The first time Master had the remote cross the boundaries I missed it entirely. It caught me in the thigh and I nearly cut off my own foot. I heard about that for weeks."
"The first time he pulled that trick with me, I thought the remote had gone berserk and ran away. I was convinced it would turn up its intensity and burn me full of holes. It was horribly embarrassing." She shook her head, dismissing the memory.
"So, Padawan," she said, "shall we begin?"
He took his position on the mat in front of her, so as to allow her to correct his form, and assumed the first pose of the kata.
Bellan opened her senses a bit, feeling Obi-Wan like a warm spot in the Force in front of her, and began to move.
Obi-Wan synchronized his movements to hers almost at once; either he was excellent at following a teacher's lead (which was entirely possible) or they had both absorbed enough of Qui-Gon's habits that their natural rhythms were the same in this.
They progressed smoothly through the forms. Bellan watched for flaws, but Obi-Wan's form was quite good. Occasionally he would put a foot wrong or misalign his shoulders, but he always seemed to feel the imbalance and correct it before Bellan corrected him.
They paused a bit before beginning the last repetition. When Initiates learned this kata cycle, they were blindfolded for the final repetition; not until they had reached a high level of skill at it were they able to overcome their natural instinct to open their eyes.
"Do you need to get a blindfold, Obi-Wan?" she asked quietly.
"No, ma'am, I can close my eyes," he replied.
She nodded, and closed her own, sinking back into the movement of the kata.
They were about a quarter of the way through when she felt a familiar pulse over the old bond that lay not-quite-dormant in her mind. Qui-Gon wanted her to pretend she didn't know he was there.
A few seconds later she heard the snap-hiss of an igniting lightsaber and felt a rush of air at her right side. She opened her eyes and saw Obi-Wan, blocking the saber stroke that his master had aimed at her head.
"Aren't you a sneaky bastard," she said admiringly. "Good catch, Obi-Wan."
Qui-Gon nodded his agreement as he disengaged. "Your focus on the Moment has improved, Padawan," he said.
Obi-Wan brightened. "Thank you, Master, Knight Morai," he said.
"Let's go from the start of the last repetition," Qui-Gon said, taking the appropriate position.
They moved with easy grace through the kata; Bellan could feel Qui-Gon and his new Padawan in the Force near her, the one an easy, familiar glow, the other sharp-edged and pulsing a little. When she opened her eyes again, she saw Obi-Wan practically vibrating in place with eagerness. She hoped the lessons she had to teach would be enough to keep him interested. She grinned ruefully at Qui-Gon; she was beginning to understand a little why he so enjoyed teaching… a permanent audience.
Obi-Wan glanced between his Master and Knight Morai, anxious to begin the lesson. Going through the kata with them had been unusually invigorating, a connection building between them in the Force and resonating. He bounced a little on his toes, and Knight Morai caught his eye and grinned.
"I'm going to have you spar with Qui-Gon," she said, "and then you'll spar with me. I want you to pay attention to what you're doing, because I'll be asking you to analyze it when we're through."
"Yes, Knight Morai," he said. His Master walked to the center of the square and stood, saber drawn, facing Obi-Wan.
"Start whenever you like," Knight Morai said from the sidelines, and before she had finished the sentence his Master had launched a strong high attack pattern.
Obi-Wan parried the first few blows, watching for an opening, and then darted under his Master's arm, gaining enough open ground to give him some freedom to move. If he let his Master pin him in, the match was as good as lost to his superior reach and strength; as long as Obi-Wan had room to move, his speed and agility allowed him to hold his own.
The rhythm of sparring with his Master was familiar, almost soothing; Obi-Wan found himself wondering what Knight Morai thought of them, but there was no time to look over at her to check; removing even that much attention from his Master would result in a swift and ignominious defeat. But Obi-Wan fancied he could feel her watching them, her keen attention like a cool ripple in the Force. He managed a quick diving roll and came out of it with a blow to his Master's supporting leg, forcing him to make an awkward parry, his wrist twisted.
"That'll do!" Knight Morai called, and they disengaged, smiling at each other as they bowed in the traditional manner.
"Take a short break," Knight Morai said, "and then it's my turn."
Obi-Wan nodded, grateful for the breather, and went to towel off a bit and drink some water. While he had sparred with his Master, Knight Morai had wrapped her long braid around her head and pinned it tightly, and was limbering up on the sidelines of the square. She wore a look of cool focus, and he had to stop himself from tensing up. She wasn't doing this to make him look bad, he reminded himself. This was an opportunity to learn from a renowned Knight. She was trying to be nice.
He wondered if she had ever sparred with Xanatos, and what it meant about him if she hadn't.
His Master watched them both, looking pleased and more than a little smug. "Watch out for her, Padawan," he advised. "She's tricky."
"Damn right," said Knight Morai, taking her place in the center of the square. "And don't you start feeding him tactics over the training bond, either. I'll know."
Master Jinn grinned at her. "I don't know why you imagine I would cheat so shamefully," he said.
"It's my nasty, paranoid disposition," she said. "Are you ready, Obi-Wan?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, and had to keep himself from starting in surprise when he felt his Master nudge him through their bond. *She likes to feint to the upper right,* he sent, *but she rarely attacks there.* Obi-Wan felt a little smug that his Master was helping him and not Knight Morai. But then, he thought, she probably doesn't need any tips about me if she watched my class, and anyway who knows what he might be saying to her? He sighed. More likely his Master was doing it to tease her. *Thank you, Master,* he sent politely, and shielded the bond. If his Master kept talking to him the whole time it would be very distracting.
"I felt that," Knight Morai said, shooting an exasperated glare at Master Jinn. "No more interfering."
"I can't wish my Padawan luck?"
She snorted, and ignited her saber, saluting Obi-Wan and nodding in approval when he returned the gesture.
He expected her to come out of the salute with a strong attack, as his Master did, but instead she fell back a step, pivoted neatly and came at him from the side. He had to spin around frantically to parry the blow, leaving himself off-balance and ill-prepared to meet the next stroke, which tagged him neatly on the arm. His late attempt to parry knocked him even further off, and he overbalanced and fell to one knee.
"Stop," Knight Morai said, disengaging and drawing back. Obi-Wan hung his head, feeling a hot wash of shame sweep over his face. All that work, and now they'd be right back where they started, with her thinking him beneath contempt. He couldn't bear to look over at his Master as he got back on his feet.
"I don't have to tell you what went wrong there," Knight Morai said mildly. "Let's start again, and this time, think about who you're fighting."
"Yes, Ma'am." He would get it right this time if it killed him. He centered himself and raised his saber again.
This time, he was ready for the explosion of movement when it came, and managed to block her path with a saber stroke. She parried easily, but was too close to Obi-Wan to continue moving, and had to fall back a step. Heartened by this small success, Obi-Wan tried to go on the offensive, but found his usual tactics much less effective against an opponent he couldn't dodge around or duck under. He was forced to fall back on the more traditional tactics he’d learned as an Initiate, and was displeased to find his reaction times lagging a bit. He would have to add an additional practice.
Knight Morai was more than a match for him in speed; where he normally liked to dart in for an attack and then dodge quickly away, he found that once he engaged her she would stick to him like a burr, wearing him down with steady, solid attacks. He found himself tiring, and knew he couldn’t hold her off for much longer.
She moved in to attack his upper right, and Obi-Wan, seizing his chance, swung his saber down to parry the feint. The blow landing on his right shoulder took him completely by surprise.
"*Master!"* he said, whirling to face the sidelines, where Master Jinn was grinning at them.
"Information gained from spies is invaluable, my Padawan," he said, "but do not allow it to override your own instincts. Sometimes an informant is not to be trusted."
"You can’t claim to be surprised," he said. "Master i’Purna did the same thing to you, as I recall."
She laughed. "Just the once," she said. She grinned at Obi-Wan. "I have a feeling I know what you’re covering in tutorial for a while."
Obi-Wan nodded absently, thinking over the fight. "I should have been able to tell that you weren’t feinting," he said.
"It’s a matter of practice, and concentration," she said. "You’ve got to read in the Force where the movement is going to go. I’m sure Qui-Gon will have it drilled into you by this time next class rotation." She grinned reassuringly. "You were doing well anticipating me before then," she said. "If your Master hadn't given you faulty intelligence I doubt you'd have missed that parry." She powered down her saber. "Now, tell me, how was fighting me different from fighting against Qui-Gon?"
"You're *lower,*" he said at once, "When Master and I spar, I can duck under his arms, but I can't do that with you without losing my momentum unless I roll, and that slows my attack down too much to take advantage of getting behind you."
She nodded. "What else?"
"Well, he's got greater reach and a more powerful attack than you do. But because his arms are so long, it's possible to slip in close to attack if you're quick; with you, though, there just isn't room."
Bellan quizzed Obi-Wan a bit more, pleased with his level of understanding. She could sense Qui-Gon's smug pleasure from the sidelines; really, he was the most infuriating person.
"You're very advanced in lightsaber for your age, Obi-Wan," she said at last, "but because of that you spend a great deal of your practice time sparring against opponents who are considerably larger than you are, and then you take tutorials with a Jedi Master who is considerably larger than most adult humanoids, let alone the ones your age. This is probably to your advantage in most situations, as I'm sure you've noticed by now. However, the tactics you can employ successfully when you're outclassed in size and strength will become ineffective when you're fighting someone who can best you in speed and agility." She ignited her saber, and gestured for him to join her. "Of course, in the long run your best chances of victory will come from skill and attunement to the Force, but I'm a great believer in helping the Force along whenever possible." She took a defensive stance. "Now, I want you to attack from my right, and watch closely what I do. We'll take it at half speed to start."
She drilled Obi-Wan for some time, and was pleased with his progress; by the time the warning light had lit, signaling that the time Qui-Gon had reserved the square for was nearly over, he was matching her much more evenly, and ad even managed to trip her once and tag her neatly in the shoulder as she stumbled.
"You've done well," she said, looking at him approvingly. "Do you think you've got the reserves left for another quick spar before we lose our square?"
Obi-Wan nodded eagerly, pink-cheeked and alert. Knight Morai glanced from him to his Master, and a slow, mischievous smile spread over her face. She winked at him. "Actually," she said, "how'd you like to spar Master-on-Padawans?"
He grinned back, feeling the last of his caution evaporate. "I'd love to," he said.
"Well, Qui-Gon?" she called to where his Master stood on the sidelines. "Do you think you can handle us both?"
He quirked an amused eyebrow at her. "It'll be a near thing, but you've already tired each other out, so I may have a chance," he said, a touch of amusement warming his voice.
They took their places in the center of the square, the Force practically humming in the spaces between them. Bellan leaned over to whisper to Obi-Wan. "You stay low and I'll go high, at first," she said. "But when I give you the signal, we'll switch; take him by surprise. And remember to hold your shields; it'll take some getting used to, but it's easy enough for him to read us already without us making it any easier."
Obi-Wan nodded, his brow creased a little in concentration even while he was bouncing on the balls of his feet in unconscious anticipation.
"All right, then," Bellan said. "It is the glory of the Master to be bested by his student, you know," she told Qui-Gon. "So really, when we win, you should consider it a tribute to your teachings."
Qui-Gon laughed as they saluted each other. "And when I win? What is that a tribute to?"
"Your stubbornness, of course," Bellan said, and flew out of the salute with a vicious flurry of attacks at his head, sensing Obi-Wan, an instant later, ducking in to attack his Master's shins.
They fought all over the square, sometimes pressing Qui-Gon back and sometimes being pressed back themselves, the Force thick between them. Obi-Wan was pleased at how easy it was to fight in tandem with Knight Morai; as they danced around their Master he felt their connection resonating happily in the Force, growing stronger until he found himself anticipating her moves almost as well as his own. Their sabers flashed almost faster than sight, weaving a dazzling net of gold and green and blue all around them, making vision almost useless to predict the next move in the spar; ordinarily Obi-Wan would have felt disoriented, uncertain, would have sought to fall back and regain space to see, but somehow it didn't seem to bother him today.
He realized then, things falling into place within him, that *this* was what his Master meant when he spoke of being in the Moment - this place where the strain of his muscles and the rush of air in his lungs became one with the urgent pulse of the Force, when the sight of his eyes faded into insignificance beside the the patterns that shone in his Force-sense bright as day, where his partner and his opponent and the rustling attention of the audience that was collecting around them washed over him like the sea but did not leave him gasping.
He felt Knight Morai's signal the instant before she gave it and launched himself into the air, flying effortlessly on a wave of Force over his Master's head to tag his left shoulder as Qui-Gon twisted to parry Knight Morai's attack to his lower right.
For a moment, all was still, shining and perfect, and then Obi-Wan took a gulping breath and the world came rushing back into normalcy, riding a wave of warm applause from the onlookers. He felt very strange, shaken and exalted, heart pounding, his skin seeming just a bit too tight to contain him. He shut off his lightsaber and stood, just breathing for a moment.
"Obi-Wan, that was *brilliant!*" Knight Morai said, sweeping him up in a boisterous hug. He looked up at her in surprise, but she just beamed at him, face flushed and eyes bright. "That was the most fun I've had in years."
"Indeed," his Master said, and Obi-Wan felt a great rush of approval and affection and pride as his Master unshielded their training bond. He swept them both up into a rough embrace, and Obi-Wan basked in the feelings washing over him in the Force. It was right, this connection, the three of them together. A family, just as Master Yoda had said.
Obi-Wan finished his Cultural Surveys reading and sat back, rubbing his eyes. He'd just taken the placement test for the first Standard Lightsaber course the previous day, and in cramming in extra practices to prepare for it had managed to get behind on most of his other readings. His Master knew, of course, but had allowed Obi-Wan to manage his own study schedule under the understanding that such privileges would be revoked the instant Obi-Wan's performance suffered. It was all right, though; Obi-Wan was pleased at the evidence that his Master trusted him in this way, and determined that the trust should not be misplaced.
The placement test results weren't scheduled to come in for another day or two, but Obi-Wan opened his personal message queue anyway, just in case the training Masters had been unusually fast in this session's grading. He skimmed through the list; no test results, just the normal assortment of announcements, library reference codes forwarded from his Master for his extracurricular reading, personal messages from his friends, and- he grinned- a message from Knight Morai. He opened it immediately, eager to hear what she had to say.
Obi-Wan smiled, and opened a reply.