Characters: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Adi Gallia, Yoda
Timeframe: General Clone Wars era
Disclaimer: Star Wars and its characters are property of Lucasfilm.
Summary: War changes many things.
It was curious, Obi-Wan reflected, how a place could seem different by changing not at all. Sound was consumed by the high arches of the hall, the tread of his boots swallowed into an aching silence.
Silence was waiting. Silence was the beat between the whine and impact of explosives. Silence was the end of a battle, that suspended moment before survivors regrouped and weapons deactivated, before the dead were counted and named.
He could remember a time when silence was peace, but it seemed long ago.
He nodded his greeting to a group of passing Jedi. A few, like him, were haggard, and wore their robes as though they didn't quite fit. The others carried a peaceful air of clean invulnerability. They were the ones sequestered in the Temple, scholarly and dusty; they were those who had not fought.
Anakin had vanished almost as soon as they made groundfall on Coruscant, evading the press of holoreporters that he used to pause and grin for. He would not be back until morning. Obi-Wan would pretend not to notice the absence, as he always did; in doing so, he was, perhaps, complicit to a violation of the spirit of the Code, but his authority was more spiritual than realised with Anakin no longer his apprentice, and overlooking Anakin's lapses therefore involved merely bending morals rather than breaking them. A relief, if Obi-Wan was honest with himself.
Anakin, of course, would take his silence for obliviousness, and would congratulate himself for the subterfuge. In many ways, he was nothing if not predictable.
Obi-Wan turned the corner, passing through a patch of dying sunlight. Adi Gallia stepped from a meditation chamber ahead of him, her dark gaze falling on him as she turned. She smiled and her sense shifted, warming in greeting as she lifted a hand. "Obi-Wan," she said.
"Adi," he returned, offering her a slight nod.
It was only because he'd known her for so long that he was able to read the tiredness in her face. "It's good to see you back," she said. "It must be over a month."
"Three, actually," he said, offering a slight smile.
"Have you heard the latest from Muunilinst?" She was carrying datapads and a handful of flimsies. One of the datacards slipped, and Obi-wan caught it and the flimsi that fell with it. His reflexes were better than ever; sometimes, blinking awake in a portable shelter because a night bug had settled on his leg or someone had walked past outside, he wondered what it had felt like not to be forever on alert.
He held onto the card and flimsi, as she seemed overloaded. "Muunilinst?"
"I don't suppose you have," she said with a faint frown. "There have been indications that the Separatists are considering another push."
Obi-Wan felt a brief, bleak sense of something too resigned to be called dismay. "Surely not," he said. "The battle in which they lost Muunilinst was costly enough. Attempting to re-take it would be foolhardy."
"Are you trying to assign reason to our fickle opponents?" Adi lifted an eyebrow. "At this point they are only murmurings. SBI is working to prevent it becoming anything more. We can't afford a large-scale defence there now."
"SBI doing something worthwhile? How novel."
Adi flicked him a look that held a sizable portion of concern. "We would be in a difficult position without the intelligence the Senate Bureau provides."
"I'll concede their usefulness," Obi-Wan said. "But I can't endorse all of their methods."
Adi pressed her lips together. They passed from the meditation corridor into the main hall, the air cooling in the vast open space. "There are rumours," she said. "You've seen proof?"
Obi-Wan was silent, unsure how to answer. There wasn't proof, but he'd heard and seen more of the galaxy since Geonosis than he had in the years of missions beforehand, in a strange and often troubling sense. Few of the Masters had been active with the level of entrenched consistency of his involvement in the war, and it was difficult to explain exactly what was occurring out there. "I believe, for the most part, that they work for good," he said at last.
"Let us hope that they succeed on Muunilinst," Adi said.
"Indeed," Obi-Wan agreed.
Adi halted at the site of the turbolift leading up to the Council chambers. Understanding that she was passing that way, Obi-Wan handed back her datacard and flimsy. She surprised him by catching his hand, her long fingers warm as they encircled his. "It's good to see you in person," she said, her eyes showing a strange tension. "Take care when you're out there, Obi-Wan. Too many have been lost."
Obi-Wan blinked, for the pain he saw in her eyes and felt in her sense was not a general sense of loss. Rather it was specific, personal, shaded with memories that rippled and drew him in. Not wanting to dwell on any implication of that, not wanting to see any reflection of the mourning in her dark blue eyes, he squeezed her hand briefly and pulled away. "I am always careful," he said, showing her the barest hint of a smile. "With Anakin around, I have to be doubly so, to cover the both of us."
"Ah, yes," she said, recovering as though her slip had never occurred. "How is your former apprentice?"
"As maddening as ever," Obi-Wan said.
"You sound proud," she said, lips curving faintly.
"I am, I suppose." Another Master – Yoda or Mace, perhaps – might have seen fit to rebuke him for the admission, but he knew she understood his meaning.
"Just make sure he knows it."
"I know how to handle Anakin," Obi-Wan said. Perhaps it was defensive, but the reflex to deflect any comment and criticism of his training of Anakin was an old one, and was by now deeply ingrained. He tried to soften it by adding, "His ego is healthy enough without my assistance, generally speaking."
She inclined her head. "I'll see you in the meeting later," she said, as he began to move away. He lifted a hand, and heard the turbolift doors hiss closed.
He continued on without a destination in mind, breathing the air that smelled of ancient stone and old files. A group of younglings passed, filing sedately in a line behind a young Jedi. Anakin had been irrepressible at that age, voraciously curious about the Force, at a loss to understand the thousand cultural intricacies that were taken for granted by those raised within the Temple. He'd been by turns inappropriately expressive and suddenly, sharply withdrawn, a legacy of either his disruptive childhood or the Council's open mistrust. He still had his foibles, but Obi-Wan was confident he'd trained Anakin away from the worst of that volatility, at least.
His feet had led him to an arched entryway, beyond which lay a blooming array of wild huja flowers that vanished into a profusion of leafy blue-green vegetation. The door plaque was inscribed with an old proverb he didn't have to look at to know, the curled edges of ancient script-form Basic barely legible and irregularly spelt as they proclaimed that all matter held the Force, as the Force held all life. He stepped inside.
The Room of a Thousand Fountains was as familiar as the controls of Obi-Wan's lightsaber, despite the length of time that had passed since he'd last entered the enclave. The fountains created a background ambience though they were not yet visible, their muted susurration trickling through the trees and vines. The air was finely moist, carrying the smell of water and clean dirt.
The space was commonly used as a meditative area, but Obi-Wan encountered no beings as he rounded the path toward the waterfalls. It was nearing the hour at which most Jedi took their main meal, but he could remember when it was common for Jedi to wander through the paths of the enclave no matter the time, open to the heightened awareness of the Force that such a profusion of life invited.
It was the room he most often pictured when he thought of the Temple while far away, its quietude and solemn peace somehow more fitting as an embodiment of his home and the Order itself than the echoing halls and lofty heights of the Temple's superstructure.
And yet – walking through it now, he felt strangely adrift. It was a sensation akin to returning to a familiar room to find furniture marginally askew, a subtle wrongness that was undeniable and yet difficult to pinpoint – except that perfect memory recall, for a Jedi, was a simple task, and training in awareness of detail began from infancy, so no Jedi would fail to notice misaligned furniture. And Obi-Wan could see nothing out of place or missing from the Room of a Thousand Fountains.
It was exactly as he remembered it. Therein, he thought ironically, lay the difficulty.
The path forged out of the trees, trailing around a broad pool and wandering off into the upright feathervines on the other side. Obi-Wan left the path to walk around to the base of the waterfall feeding the crystal-blue pool, coming to a halt as the mist drifted to film his hair and skin.
He could remember one other time, many years ago, when the Room of Fountains had felt like a different place and when, for a few months, he'd avoided coming here. A fight with a one-time fellow student had resulted in that boy's tumble and death by this very waterfall, blood spurting in its way, becoming gentle tendrils in the water. That was a long time ago, he thought. He'd seen a great deal of blood fall since.
"Master Kenobi," said a voice behind him as he stood, hands clasped at his back, staring at the white spray of the water.
He smiled, a little. "Master Yoda," he said, turning with a bow.
"Expected to find you here, I did," Yoda said. He looked smaller and older than Obi-Wan remembered, his bearing slightly compressed, as if carrying great weight.
"That surprises me, Master, because I had intended no specific destination until I arrived at this room."
"Surprise you, it should not," Yoda said irritably. "Blind yourself, you may be; blind, I am not."
Obi-Wan wondered what that meant, but inclined his head and turned to face the waterfall.
"Troubled, you are," Yoda said, coming to stand beside him.
"Tired, Master. It was a long journey."
Yoda's sense was even vaster than the profusion of life in the green enclave around them, but he seemed preoccupied. Yoda and Anakin were alike in power alone; Anakin was a burning, alive presence, where Yoda was an ocean, implacable and yet changeable, depths unknown.
"A very long journey, it has been," Yoda said, voice low. He was looking across the water of the pool, seeming to watch the shadows on the other side.
Obi-Wan sat down on the carved rocks at the edge of the pond. His tunic and cloak hung against his skin, cool from the spray. He blinked moisture from his eyelashes.
"Share what troubles you, you must," Yoda said. "Hm?"
The gentleness was enough to splinter Obi-Wan's reserve. He shifted his shoulders, feeling the absence of his armour, those hard lines that kept the body straight. "The Temple seems different, more so each time I return. And yet it has not changed."
Yoda looked at him gravely. He went on, "I find the peace that I used to value here is more difficult to come by. The Temple's slow pace seems hollow. The seclusion seems risk-laden and indefensible. Where there was serenity and security here once, I can no longer find it. Everything is underlain with where I have come from."
Yoda's preoccupation had deepened. His dark eyes were distant, peering through Obi-Wan at some other place. They refocused slowly.
"I don't know what to make of it," Obi-Wan said apologetically. "Most likely it's of little relevance or significance to anyone but myself."
Yoda tilted his head, thoughtful, though still somewhat remote. "Change, do the eyes that see. Part of growing, it is. And yet I do not think that is all this is. Great has been the cost of this war. Great is the burden to the Jedi, in ways we are still counting." For a brief moment, he radiated a sadness so deep that Obi-Wan drew in a breath, reflexive, but then it was gone again. "Value highly your judgement, I do," Yoda said. "Look to you, do many of the Jedi."
Obi-Wan felt a spell of weariness, betraying him for an instant before he controlled it. "I have no intention of wavering, Master."
Yoda looked at him, expression softening slightly. "Know this already, I do." He was silent for a time. "No answer, do I have, for your trouble. The trouble of the Order, it is, for the few perceptive enough to sense it. Watching I am. Waiting."
Yoda's eyes were as dark as space as he looked at Obi-Wan. "Know that, I do not."
Obi-Wan ran a hand through his hair, wet under his palm with the cool spray. "If there is anything I can do…"
Yoda looked at him for a moment as though Obi-Wan were a stranger. Then he smiled. "Doing it already, you are," he said.
Obi-Wan frowned at this unnecessary vagueness.
Yoda grunted as he gathered himself, leaning on his stick as he straightened. "Leave you in solitude, I will not. Come, eat, you must, before the Council convenes."
His manner was businesslike. Obi-Wan knew he would get no further answers from him – if, indeed the ancient Master had any further to give, a thought which in many ways was more frightening than anything Yoda had said. He rose to his feet. "Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said wryly. "At once, Master."
Yoda huffed a chuckle, and led the way out through the silence of the trees.