Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars. This story is purely a work of fan fiction, and I am not making any profit from it.
Special thanks go to LiveJournal's hikarific, who not only took the time to read an older version of this story on AO3 (coming in at just under 60,000 words, no mean feat), but also offered me pages of thoughtful commentary on structure, style, and characterization. I hope she will find that her efforts have been rewarded by the resulting product!
As always, but even more than usual, feedback will be very welcome. :)
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
She sat cross-legged, hands up-turned on her knees, fingers relaxed and slightly curled, her back almost but not quite perfectly straight, and smoothed the frown from her sharp young face for the seventeenth time in the last five minutes (and yes, she was counting). Master Yoda insisted that controlling the body was the first step toward controlling the mind.
So far, Ryn was a spectacular failure at both.
The frown came back, sneaking onto her face, the tiny pulling of little muscle groups belying her effort at serenity.
She took a deep breath and started over, visualizing the muscles beneath the smooth skin of her forehead and telling them, one by one, to relax.
Good. As long as nobody looked too closely, she looked like every dutiful Jedi-in-training the Temple hosted.
And something blazed in her mind, a disturbance that was as much in her psyche - sykhe, she used the native word in her own head - as it was in the Force she could barely sense: a Presence, bright and fiery, buoyant with possibilities. Another Being, unfamiliar and compelling, so fiercely alive. This was the source of the feeling she'd been fighting all morning, the nervous edge of excitement that defied all her attempts at calm, every effort to please Masters Yoda and Windu by making herself perfectly passive and pliant— something that had never made much sense to Ryn, because if you made an act of will, even over yourself, then that had to be active, which would seem to make this determined passivity self-defeating.
But now the presence was here, and Ryn let curiosity get the better of her. (Actually, she was pretty sure that curiosity had always had the better of her, but she was hoping no one else had figured that out yet. With Master Yoda, one could never quite be sure.) She scrambled to her feet and headed toward the Presence, drawn to it without any need for conscious thought (not that this stopped her from worrying a little along the way).
She followed the feeling down, toward the lower levels of the Jedi Temple, the open places she rarely visited, trying to pay attention so that she didn't run straight into a wall (her curiosity did not come with directions). The feeling got stronger as she went, and her feet hurried on their own, down stairs and around corners, sorting through the intricate maze of the Temple's corridors. Suddenly she felt that Presence on the same level as herself, frustratingly close but now definitely moving away, and she ran around two more corners, just to work off her frustration, and then ...
She ran headlong into something warm and solid, something that triggered a flash of pain in her head, where she'd hit it, but that wasn't going to be a problem, because, suddenly and unexpectedly, she was bathed in light, suffused with it, a radiant energy that swept through all her cells and made her feel alive in a way she never had before.
It was intoxicating, and she let her eyes slide shut to savor the experience, giving herself over to it, forgetting her name and her mission and everything else for that one, perfect instant as she hung suspended - between before and after, caught in the moment of becoming, the leap in the dark that felt like flying.
Some time later, she head voices and opened her eyes.
She was lying on her back in a Temple hallway, while two men in Jedi robes knelt over her, their faces concerned.
"I'm sorry," she said automatically, not even sure what she was apologizing for. She couldn't think yet - her brain wouldn't work right. She felt dizzy, thrown out of her element, lost after that rush of unexpected joy.
"No, I'm sorry," said the younger of the two Jedi—a Padawan, actually, his status proclaimed by the thin braid worn behind his right ear. His voice was low and husky, inexplicably vibrating in Ryn's own chest. "I wasn't watching where I was going."
He leaned forward over her, his fingers threading through her hair—checking for head injuries, she realized—and she barely heard him asking, gently, "Are you all right?" because something, suddenly, became very clear, a knowledge that washed over her like a crashing wave, drowning everything else.
She had spent the last two years listening to girls talk about boys and wondering what all the fuss was about, or what was wrong with her that she didn't have those same feelings. Physically, everything appeared to be on schedule, her organs taking on the shape and rhythms of an adult human female; and it had been well over a year—almost two, really—since she had experienced that first dark gush of blood that signaled her readiness to do her part in continuing the species.
Except she wasn't interested. Until now.
She had waited patiently, all this time, wondering why she didn't feel the same strange compulsion to mix with the opposite sex that her peers were exhibiting at every turn, even in the precincts of the Temple. And she had been an outsider, an observer, watching these mysteries without a glimmer of understanding. But now it was obvious.
She had been waiting, her body ready but her feelings dormant, for exactly this moment: so that right here, right now, this young man with the warm hands and the intense blue eyes could touch her and bring her suddenly to vivid, brilliant life, so that every nerve that had never known quite what to do with itself before could sizzle into action and all the connections that had been missing could fire into place and her blood could sing in her ears and the pulse in her veins could push her, in the space between one breath and the next, over the threshold between the innocence of childhood and the heady knowledge of newfound womanhood.
The Padawan and his Master were still looking down at her with concern, unaware that her life had just changed, that she had just changed, dramatically, and that the woman lying on the floor beneath them was not the same as the girl who had skidded around the corner.
She had to say something.
"You have an ... overwhelming presence," she said distinctly, fighting to find herself in the psychic maelstrom that was this young man's aura—unmistakably the Presence that had been wrecking her concentration all morning. It was an effort to be aware of herself, her own boundaries, her separateness, in the midst of that compelling energy.
The youth didn't seem to know how to answer this. His Master took over the situation with more than Jedi calm, with the deep unshakeableness of a truly grounded soul. "My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi," he said, his voice low and reassuring—not the throaty tiger-purr of his apprentice, but a well-modulated instrument with a warm tone. "This is my Padawan-learner, Anakin Skywalker. Are you injured?"
Ryn nodded, registering this information, then shook her head abruptly as his question penetrated the layers of confusion. "My name is A ––" and then suddenly she didn't want to give them the formal mode of address, not when she felt the younger one intimately already, humming in her blood " ––Ryn Orun," she finished, easing back a little, breaking Skywalker's contact with her arm as she set her palms to the floor and pushed herself, a little gingerly, to a sitting position. She was floundering for an explanation that didn't sound utterly crazed when she saw that Kenobi was eying her thoughtfully.
"Master Yoda has mentioned you," he said, studying her as thought she were a puzzle to be solved —much as Yoda did, actually.
Ryn could not help feeling a twinge of resentment at being eyed this way again, but she pushed it doggedly aside. He didn't know her and was never going to, so of course his primary interest in her existence was scientific, not personal. After nearly a year in the Temple, she really ought to be used to the scrutiny. Besides, it eliminated awkward explanations about her talent —or, in this case, liability. So she sucked in a deep breath, letting the air clear her mind, trying to ignore the fact that the air seemed to be permeated with Skywalker, like the fragrance of a thousand flowers, or the smell of the air before a storm. She nodded on the exhale, studiously not looking at Kenobi's apprentice. "Yes ... well ... your apprentice has an unusually strong presence. I'm afraid I was momentarily overwhelmed ... but I'm fine, now."
Skywalker's aura, just to her right, became tinged with chagrin, and Ryn risked a quick glance to toss him a friendly grin that she hoped said no hard feelings and not you just became the center of my galaxy. "It's only fair. You knock out my psychic walls and I bruise your shins."
The Padawan snorted a laugh, accepting her friendly tone more than her dubious logic. He had a fantastic smile, bright and warm and utterly guileless. "Can we escort you somewhere? Assist you somehow?" Kenobi asked, impossibly solicitous. Ryn shook her head as she tilted forward, getting her legs under her and pushing to her feet, an action that seemed to take a great deal more concentration than she usually gave it. "No, thank you. I'm certain you have other duties, and I will be myself again momentarily."
Kenobi gave his apprentice an admonishing look, and Anakin, just scrambling—with a curious economy of movement that somehow mingled the grace of a natural athlete with the awkwardness of a teenage boy—to his feet, glanced hastily at Ryn, obviously embarrassed and, also obviously, resentful at being embarrassed, a resentment Ryn sensed he was transferring to her. There was a sort of transparency to him, his feelings running near the surface. "I apologize. I did not meant to cause you distress."
Ryn flashed him a another smile—a little shaky, but nonetheless genuine. "You didn't. Actually, I found the experience fascinating." She bowed to Kenobi. "Don't let me keep you."