The Jedi Way
If he peeked his eyes open, the carpet beneath his feet was a sea of blue. Except that he wasn't supposed to peek. He was supposed to feel his way forward, sense the youngling in front of him, and the one next to him, so that they all moved as one behind their Master.But he wasn't peeking because he needed to see where he was going, rather, he could feel the others so strongly that stepping a centimeter out of line was just like when his arm fell out of his blankets at night, and he pulled instantly back into the warmth of the group.
No, he peeked because sometimes when he did he caught a glimpse of the older Padawans hurrying down the hallway, laughing amongst themselves, their robes flowing behind them as they made their way to somewhere exciting. It made him wish he were old enough to wear the braid, to have a real lightsaber, to go wherever it was they were going. And usually he could do it without his Master catching on, but sometimes he looked too long, and then he would hear,"Luke, be mindful of your thoughts."
His Master's rebuke was bad enough, but the worst part was when he felt the ripple of amusement run through the minds of all the other younglings, and he knew they were laughing at him, even if nary a giggle escaped their lips. All he could do was sigh, and close his eyes again, and refocus on the Force.
It was easy to play this game, easy that was to use the Force to navigate walking through the Jedi Temple. Not so easy to do what his Master said was the point of this game, to empty his head of thoughts and stop thinking about where he was going, to live in the moment and hear only the voice of the Force.
But try he did, because a Jedi needed that skill, and that's what he wanted more than anything else, to be grown-up, and to pass the Trials, and to be a real Jedi Knight.So he stopped imagining what it was like to fly a Jedi fighter, or to be a Padawan on assignment with his own Master, and fell in step with the rest of the younglings.
That was not to say that when Master Tolan's gentle voice said "Younglings, freeze", he wasn't glad. Freeze was another game, a game in which they couldn't move, not their feet, not their heads, not their hands, not a millimeter. But they were allowed to open their eyes, and when he did he saw that they were in the vast foyer at the base of the spire that housed the Council chambers.
Ahead he could see Master Vierra, his own group of younglings padding behind him in less than perfect formation. All except one, a dark haired girl who mirrored Master Vierra with precision, despite the miscues of the less gifted youngling in front of her. She walked with confidence, her head held high, and her eyes resolutely closed.She probably never peeked. He didn't think he'd ever seen her before, even though the various groups of younglings were not infrequently rearranged.
He swung his eyes up towards Master Tolan, being careful not to move his head at the same time. His Master was leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest, and the heel of one boot resting casually against the wall as well. Though he appeared to be watching the mediocre performance of Master Vierra's younglings, there was no trace of disapproval coming from Master Tolan's presence, just the usual calm confidence that always surrounded him.
The urge to move was almost overwhelming, but he held his position. Control, a Jedi must learn control, that was what Master Tolan always said.He started to put his tongue out to wet his lips, but he felt his Master's mind flicker over his, and he quickly drew his tongue back into his mouth.It seemed that Master Tolan was going to make them maintain that control until Master Vierra's group completed their meandering path towards them, the Padawans moving like a lashing tail behind their Master.
Just when he thought he was going to have scratch his side, or rub his eyes, or something, Master Tolan said, "Very good, Padawans, you can relax. You may sit or stand, but you must stay here."
He sighed loudly, and stretched his arms over his head. Maybe that was why he liked Master Tolan more than any of the other Masters who taught them : he always knew the point at which they couldn't take anymore, and never pushed them past it. That, and maybe because when they went to sleep at night he came by each of their beds, putting a gentle hand to each forehead before he retired to his own quarters. None of the other Masters did that, and all he knew was that it felt nice and he always slept well afterwards.
He hoped they weren't changing groups today. Usually when that happened it was done in the morning, before the day's training was begun, not out here in the hallways. They weren't supposed to have favorites among their teachers, just as the Masters could have no favorites among the Padawans, but he didn't want to leave Master Tolan, especially for Master Vierra, who always seemed so distant. The only good thing about it would be that he might end up in the same group as the dark haired girl, the one he ought to remember, because there was just something about her, something that kept drawing his attention to her.
Suddenly he realized he was not containing his thoughts, and he looked around quickly to see if Master Tolan had noticed, but his teacher was caught up in conversation with Master Vierra.The two men were standing at right angles to each other, the space between them opening outwards towards the Padawans, as if they were watching them, but he could feel that their minds were not focused on the younglings.
"You know the Council is hearing the case again today," Master Tolan said.
Master Vierra swept his cloak back and rested his hands on his hips."You really think they would reverse their decision ?"
He turned away from the Masters and glanced over at the dark haired girl. She was attempting to stand at perfect attention but another Padawan in her group was raising his hand slowly, drawing the back of her tunic up with it. She whipped around to catch him, but he dropped his hand swiftly and released the Force, and her tunic fell back down over her undershirt. When she returned to her formal posture, his hand rose up again, this time moving as high as her shoulders before she turned around , her face furrowed with anger. By then his hands were already behind him and all she could do was smooth her tunic against her.
He knew Master Tolan would never allow that kind of behavior. He turned back to the Masters, hoping they would stop her tormentor, but they weren't watching.
Master Tolan was nodding."I think they would be happy to turn the Lost Twenty-One back into the Lost Twenty, especially considering who number twenty-one is."
"Yeah, but I heard he would only come back if they acceded to his demands." Master Vierra said, giving a backwards glance towards the Council spire.
Master Tolan leaned his head in."They should have given him permission the first time. It's not like he would have been the only one."
They weren't going to stop the boy, but they needed to, and not just to help the girl. Enjoying the suffering of others led to the Dark Side, that's what they always said in class.Then he remembered something else from class, from when Master Kenobi spoke to them. You must do what you feel is right.
The cycle of lifted tunic and irritated girl was continuing. He looked one more time to the Masters.
"The exception they granted to Ki-Adi-Mundi was based on biology, not sentiment. There's no shortage of humans like there is Cereans," Master Vierra said, stepping back from Master Tolan.
Master Tolan extended his arm from his robe and gestured in the air. "But killing Sidious should have counted for something, don't you think ? Especially with the injuries Sidious inflicted on him before it was all over."
Master Vierra shrugged. "Yeah, maybe.But no one was holding a blaster to his head when he gave them up. He was no longer part of the Order. He didn't have to do it."
The Masters did not look as though they would tolerate an interruption. He drew in a breath, and made sure his mind was calm. He was not going to start a fight, he was only going to ask the other Padawan to stop teasing the girl. As he crossed the no man's land of carpet that separated the two groups, he felt the eyes of his fellow Padawans burning into the back of him. Any second he expected Master Tolan's attention to fall on him, and the soft-spoken voice to utter words of disappointment, but they didn't come.
Instead Master Tolan said, "It was only after his wife died in that accident. You have to admit, it would have been pretty difficult raising two little ones by himself when he's stuck inside that suit."
Master Vierra snorted."Nothing is supposed to be beyond the abilities of the Chosen One."
The Masters hadn't even paused in their conversation as he moved from one group to the other, but the dark haired girl was eyeing him with suspicion. His head dropped as he wilted under the intensity of her gaze. He turned instead to the seemingly innocent boy standing next to her.
"You shouldn't do that," he said to the guilty Padawan.
"I wasn't doing anything," the other boy said, but he looked away as he said it, and then he walked to the other side of the group.
The dark haired girl's eyes narrowed as she watched her tormentor move away.He kept his head down, expecting her imperious gaze to swing back to him at any moment. But then he heard her say,"Thank you," and that gave him the courage to look up.
The smile she was giving him made him feel tingly all over. He pulled his eyes away from hers as he struggled to find something to say.When he realized no words were ever going to come, he returned her gaze and simply felt her presence in the Force.
He blinked slowly as he took in the feelings that flowed between them. There was something so comforting about her presence. It felt like riding in the Temple shuttle as the gentle rocking motion of the vehicle lulled him into sleep, like tasting the first bite of dinner after they had been doing gymnastics all afternoon, like drawing his blanket up over his shoulders at night. And it wasn't because her presence itself was so calm, indeed her mind had a fire and a bite to it, but that her presence was so familiar. It felt like home, except that home was here in the Temple, but it had never made him feel as warm as she was doing now.
In the background he was vaguely aware of Master Tolan's voice saying, "Well, I still think they gave him the wrong end of the lightsaber.He almost dies fulfilling the prophecy and they still won't cut him any slack. I just don't think he was asking so much to keep his family together."
Master Vierra laughed in reply."You're kidding me, right ? This is the Council we're talking about. If they're not raised like Jedi, they're not going to be Jedi. Speaking of, here they come. The hearing must be over."
Master Vierra's words were in his ear, but they didn't really register, and his attention remained riveted on the dark haired girl.Maybe she felt the familiarity, too, because she put her open palm up towards him. He placed his hand to mirror hers, and saw her blink sharply as their fingers touched.With their hands in contact he perceived not only feelings, but images : a woman's face, a sunlit room, a deep blue lake. He wasn't sure if the memories were from the girl, because they almost seemed as if they were his own, merely long forgotten.
Then a new voice sounded, one that made him jump.
"Masters, Masters. Wandered, your attention has. Together those two younglings must not be."
He heard rushed footsteps behind him and Master Tolan's powerful arm came around his chest and lifted him off the floor. All he could manage was a yelping "No !" as his hand was torn away from the girl's. His master carried him back to their group, and he twisted in his master's arms to watch Master Vierra grab the girl by her slight shoulders and push her back into her group.
He didn't understand. Why was it bad that they had been together ? Why was there such urgency in Master Yoda's voice ? He had the terrible feeling that he would not be allowed to see the dark haired girl again. He started to struggle, tried to get his feet to the floor so that he could run back to her.
Master Tolan must have felt his panic, because his teacher whispered soothingly in his ear. He felt his master's presence in his head, as well, easing away his fear. He relaxed and felt himself be swept away by the calming influence.The feelings he had shared with the girl began to fade. Maybe he didn't need to see her again.
His eyelids grew heavy, and his head came to rest on his Master's shoulder. Maybe it had been a dream : the images of other places, other times, not revived memories, but just his imagination. He belonged here at the Temple, had always been here.
Master Tolan's fingers tightened around his arm, and they came to a halt. In his near slumber he heard a voice, deep and commanding, and of such intensity that ordinarily it would have frightened him, but like the dark haired girl's presence, there was something comforting about it, as if he had known it before.He lifted his head up to hear it better.
"Get your hands off of them," it said."I'm taking them home."