"Be quiet! Quickly! Come on!" an impatient voice hissed.
The sound punctuated the absent air, overpowering the dull chirping of crickets in the banks and the gentle whispering of the fluttering lake. About them was the transparent, relaxed dimness of a midsummer night, the kind of hazy blue curtain which rolled in slowly throughout the day; it had blended in smoothly with the previous prismatic hues of pink, apricot and amber which had streaked across the azure heavens like a dancing act. Now the deep, navy blue that surrounded them was peppered with the silver dots of trembling stars; gorged open by the swollen moon, full like a ripened and plump pear. Here, the loud and buzzing speeders which whizzed constantly across the planet's skyline like irritating insects, seemed far away and distant. As did the sharp monolith-like buildings that littered the surface. Instead, the soft glow of the moon highlighted the depths of the foliage and whitened the sputtering, foamy spray of the waterfall which crashed among the lilies. The delicate flowers twirled along the surface, petals spread wide around them like the shimmersilk gowns senators worn to balls. The magic place was deserted, there was no sound but the gentle splash of the water on the lily-pads and small feet padding on the soft grass.
The flickering lights that broke through the boughs overhead were reduplicated in the shivering surface of the lake, producing an abstract version of the star dotted sky. A summer breeze brushed past the padawans faces as they trickled their way down to the body of water, movement's cautious yet loosening with each metre that was put between them and the Jedi Temple and it's imposing rules. They were led by a thirteen year old Quinlan Vos, who held his head high with a powerful yet warm air of confidence which occasionally tittered on the edge of arrogance. His thick braided hair was pulled back and tied loosely behind him, some curls and plaits bouncing freely on his forehead as he marched determinedly, a full bag swinging over his shoulder.
Behind him stumbled a tired Garen Muln, his deep olive skin shining with slight perspiration, and Reeft snaked a hand across his shoulders, the Dressellian boy supporting the other as they followed Quinlan. Y/N watched them with a fixed insistency, eyes pulsating with a deeper knowledge than anyone else in their little group as she watched Reeft lean over and murmur something in Garen's ear, earning a sleepy shake of a head and a yawn. She smiled to herself, heart trembling with anticipation as if a butterfly had found itself trapped within the organ.
To her left was Obi-Wan Kenobi, who coursed his way through the long grass with the same lithe as a tusk cat. His hair, like Garen's, was cropped short and stood erect upon his head like budding wheat, his padawan braid swinging with each step he took. The thirteen year old boy held Bant Eerin's hand tightly in his, guiding the eleven year old through the darkness. The image brought a grin to Y/N's face, he had always been the best with the younger and smaller padawans. The young Mon Calamari was the smallest in the group, yet her wide, ashy-blue eyes were a sublimation of a wisdom far beyond her years, mimicking the reflective surface of the lake. After a conversation with Bant, one often found themselves trapped in a deep state of self-reflection, as if her gaze had managed to reveal an individual's flaws and shortcomings. Sometimes she didn't even to open her mouth, just quirk an eyebrow and tilt her head.
This was why Obi-Wan held her in such high regard. She was often the only one who could cut through his short temper and force him to recognise the spiraling thorns of his own arrogance and insecurities which threatened to choke his future of becoming a Jedi Knight.
And so this little group traipsed after Quinlan.
"Here will do," the self-appointed leader announced, spinning back to look at his friends, lips spread wide with a grin which swiftly fell upon looking at Garen, "Wake up you womp-rat!"
"I'm trying Quinlan! But it's three in the morning, I'm tired!" Garen moaned.
Reeft nodded his head, "And I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry," Quinlan snorted, flopping down onto the ground, "But fear not, I have come prepared like a true Jedi," he announced, eyes flashing with a devious glint that made Obi-Wan's stomach twist. The copper-tinted haired boy fell down beside the Kriffar, watching with a nervous smile as he pulled the bag that hung on his shoulders in front of him and emptied it. Copious amounts of snacks and fruit tumbled out of it as if Quinlan had disemboweled the sack with a vibroblade and this spilled messily on the floor, drawing an awe-struck cry from Reeft as he tucked into the remains of the bag.
"Where did you get all this, Vos?" Obi-Wan asked accusingly, eyebrow cocked.
The darker boy's grin only grew wider, eyes shining with a palpable sense of mischief, "Oh don't get all serious on me now Oafy-Wan," he teased, tossing a muja fruit up in the air and catching it, "Does it trigger flashbacks of the agricultural corps?"
"N-no," Obi-Wan stammered, cheeks burning with the increasingly warm fire of irritation that brewed deep within. He knew that Quinlan was only poking fun, but the skin that had stretched itself over the wound of being almost kicked out of the Order was delicate and paper thin, strained so much that it was transparent; all it would take to shatter the pathetic covering was a slight jab. Like the mentioning of Bruck Chun's nickname for him.
"I just," he began, fingers trembling with anticipation, "I'm leaving for Gala tomorrow with Master Qui-Gon and I just don't want him or the Council to have any reasons as to why I can't go," or can't be in the Order.
"Duh, that's the whole reason we're here, Oafy-Wan."
The flames within crackled, and Obi-Wan clenched his fists by his side. Quinlan snickered at the effects of his words, biting nonchalantly into the fruit in his palm with a crunch that echoed around the group. The friction between the two boys laid heavy in the air, like an imposing smog and the others felt themselves drowning in the vicarious embarrassment and awkwardness. Obi-Wan was trying his hardest, Maker above, to control his anger, to just accept that this was what Quinlan was like sometimes, but it felt as if his hand as a mind of its own and it was demanding to be allowed to crash into the side of the other boy's face.
"Exactly," Y/N spoke up, laying a comforting hand on the vibrating padawan's shoulder and offered him a gentle smile, "That's why we're all here. So how about we stop all the teasing and enjoy our last night together as a group for a while?"
"I second this," Bant echoed, a smile spreading across her face, "It could be months before we all get to see each other again, so let's not fight."
Obi-Wan looked between Y/N and Bant, who both seemed so bright and glittering in the pale, blue light of the moon and gave them a swift nod. The Padawan felt that profound swelling within his chest as he looked at the two girls, feeling forever grateful to be considered their friend and how much he was going to miss their endless council and support. With such a thought, his adoration started to be poked through by pins of melancholy as he pondered how long they might all be separated for. Quinlan, as much of a womp rat as he could be, would be leaving on another mission with Master Tholme soon, and in their absence, any of their friends could be picked by a Master as a Padawan.
Anything could happen.
Quinlan sighed, reaching into the pile and yanking back a piece of confectionery, "Fine," he murmured, tossing it at Obi-Wan; the teasing accent of sarcasm had dropped out of his tone, which now had a gravity of checked emotions. And, just as fast as they had rolled in, the looming, dark clouds that threatened a storm, had raced off and left the air electrified and buzzing. As if the atmosphere itself understood that Bant and Y/N had worked to evade a ferocious battle.
"Besides, if we do get caught we can just blame Quinlan," Y/N smirked.
Garen nodded his head, cheeks swollen with food, "You deserve it, you dragged us all out bed," he said between mouthfuls of fruit and sweets.
The Kriffar boy pouted, arms crossed, "Well, shoot me for trying to give Obi-Wan a good show off!"
"Oh that's what you were trying to do, huh?" Obi-Wan laughed, "I thought you were trying to give me a headache."
Dark clouds erupted across Quinlan's face as he narrowed his gaze, mouth creaking open as if in slow motion. Bant watched the scene between a net of salmon, pink fingertips, waiting for the next verbal clash between the two eldest boys.
"Can I have that choclime twist?" Reeft asked, his request slicing smoothly through the brewing tension like a lightsaber slipping through snow. He pointed a wrinkled fingers at the desert that was clasped in Quinlan's hand and the latter stared at his desert, then at Reeft, then back at his desert with a growing expression of incredulity, his irritation at Obi-Wan appearing and disappearing as fast as a crash of lightning.
"You have two right there!" he exclaimed, jabbing a free hand at the small pile of food growing between the Dressellian's crossed legs.
"Yeah but I want that one."
Reeft nodded, "Please, I don't mean to sound greedy."
This pulled a laugh from everyone in the group and Obi-Wan piped up teasingly, "It may be a bit late for that, Reeft."
The Dressellian's heavy, carnivorous head slumped between his shoulders, "So no to the choclime twist?"
"What do you think?" Quinlan snorted, fingers already swiftly working to remove the wrapping. Reeft watched him with wide, wounded eyes as he shoved the whole treat into his mouth, cheeks puffing and crumbs spread across his lips. Obi-Wan bit back a rib-cracking chuckle and instead decided that he would store this image and memory for a later date, when it could be used against his friend. Perhaps the next time the fool decided he was impressive enough to talk to Siri Tachi.
Reeft's dismay was short-lived however, as Garen tapped him on the shoulder, shooting Quinlan a dirty look, "Here, you can have the rest of mine... if you don't mind that I bit it?"
"No I don't mind," Reeft replied, the deep crevices and cracks on his face multiplying as he grinned, accepting the snack gratefully, "Thank you friend," and he shoved the whole thing into his mouth.
Y/N rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to Obi-Wan, "So, are you excited?"
The thirteen year old felt his joy explode across his face, "Yes!" he gushed, "It's going to be so cool, to be able to settle a civil dispute," he paused to catch his breath and check his elation, but it was difficult. With everything that had happened on Phindar, Obi-Wan was grateful that Qui-Gon had decided that they would briefly return to Coruscant for a rare day of rest before rushing off to assist another planet, but the young Padawan had gotten a taste of excitement and was eager to jump back into work. To him, the whole galaxy seemed to be littered with opportunities and experiences, each of which would shape him to be the best Jedi Knight possible, especially with Qui-Gon Jinn as his Master.
The Jedi Council would claim that as a thirteen year old, Obi-Wan Kenobi was no longer a child, but he still had that determined, childlike naivety which meant that to him that the galaxy was still a place of glittering beauty. To Obi-Wan, becoming a Jedi Knight meant that he could become someone who would defeat the choking clouds of greed and corruption, restore peace and justice to every trembling corner of the galaxy. The future spread wide and far out before him, rolling off into the distance with a delicious glimmer, enticing him to leap upon it and claim it as his own.
Now he realised he was internally monologuing and blushed, "Yeah, I'm excited."
And so the night dragged on, trickling away into the ever distant past, yet slugging its way towards the future, which to the young boy glistened and gleaned with hope. Perhaps if he were older, or didn't wear rose-tinted glasses, Obi-Wan would have held reservations about his and his friends futures; maybe he would have realized that the mantle of a Jedi was not an easy one to bare and carry; that soon he would thrown into the choppy sea of reality without any safety net. Soon, his childish perception of the world would be shattered, shredded like the delicate, ornate wing of butterfly that had been pinched beneath a rock; wrenching itself free, the insect would find that it could still fly, but the movements were jagged and grotesque, as if a string had been threaded through its abdomen and jerked it through the air. Whole but damaged, and the world now seemed like a never ending test of one's strength.
Despite all this, the children sprawled out beneath the stars, oblivious to the stalking doom.
Obi-Wan was pressed back-to-back with Y/N, the soft waves of her hair crashing and breaking over his right shoulder, the breeze brushed the loose strands against his face. She leaned back gently, the back of her head finding purchase on the crook of Obi-Wan's shoulder as she gazed up at the sky before them. He mimicked her movements. The deep, blue canvas above seemed to pulsate, to sway gently under the domination of the passage of time. Every inch of it seemed to be mottled with the pocks of stars and space craft and asteroids and it was a sight so touching, so profound that it almost made the boys heart falter. He adored stargazing, it humbled him, made him aware of the insignificance of his presence in the galaxy in a way that did not stir the fears of nihilism or absurdism. Rather than make him question why he did the things he did, it reinforced every reasoning. The galaxy above him, the splattering of ecosystems and advanced societies throughout the stars, cared little for the outcome of the minorities within their realm. That was his beloved duty.
Y/N exhaled softly. A fresh breeze brushed her scent over him, sapir tea engulfed him, it was a comforting, familiar scent. He could feel the slow, content pumping of her heart, he could hear the soft seesawing of her breath and he stitched every touch, every smell, every sound into the pages of his memories. The horizon wore, like a rich garment, the stars and the planets and their moons, and in the morning it would adorn a crystalline cloak, who bareness and vitality contrasted with the decorative beauty witnessed currently; both were silent and innate but also bright and glittering. They were sights worth fighting for.
The others had slowly drifted into a deep slumber, bellies filled to the brim with food, the soft banks beneath them as comfortable as any bed, the whispering of the wind as lulling as a song. Bant was curled up in a ball by Obi-Wan's feet, chest rising and falling slowly; Quinlan, with chocolate stained lips, laid sprawled to Obi-Wan's right, limbs bent at what appeared as unnatural positions, a silvery line of drool spilling from his lips; to Y/N's left laid Reeft and Garen, facing one another, hands stretched out towards the other, fingertips barely grazing as they appeared to breathe in unison.
Obi-Wan could not have asked for a better send off.
He thumbed his padawan braid as Y/N asked, "Where is Gala?"
She slowly turned, so that now her chin was hovering above his shoulder where her head had just lain, eyes pooling with curiosity. Her knees skimmed Obi-Wan's lower back and he shivered at the touch despite the tepid temperature of the night. He stole a brief glance at her, suddenly convinced that she was a star that had sunk from the velvet heavens, and raised an unsteady hand to point at the quadrant of the sky that housed his next mission.
"Right there," he whispered.
"Wow, that's so far away."
He laughed, "Y/N, they're all so far away."
"You know what I meant Obi-Wan," she rolled her eyes, swatting him on the shoulder but a smile tugged at her petal lips, "Isn't it crazy? Tonight you're here," she patted the ground, casting her eyes down before abruptly jerking her head and arms up towards the sky with a tooth, glittering grin, "But tomorrow you'll be there!"
He couldn't help but to laugh in earnest, it was a little sound that carried the weight of his whole soul.
"You're mean!" she pouted, flinging herself down in front of him so that she was looking up at him and the vast heavens which rolled behind him. Obi-Wan had never realised how beautiful she was before this moment, but then again, he had never realised that anyone was beautiful before now.
"What do you mean?"
She watched as his rang his fingers along his braid, "You just laughed at my very philosophic wisdom," she dramatically mocked a wounded expression, casting a hand to her forehead so it draped classically above her, "Regret, you will feel, when I become the next Yoda, hmmm."
He had begun to laugh, cerulean eyes scrunching up, but a close snap of a branch guillotined the sound and instead, it came out a choked warble. Instinctively, he reached for the hilt of his lightsaber and before he could bark an order, Y/N had already leapt to her feet, hands resting on her own. Obi-Wan rose to join her, calling on the Force to highlight where the sound was coming from. It told him it was along the same path that the padawans had earlier followed.
"Protect Bant," he whispered, ever so conscious of the Mon Calamari's tiny stature.
Another snap invited him to ignite his lightsaber with a hiss, which made all the other padawans jerk awake asides from Quinlan. Other younglings may have panicked, to have been awoken by the sound of a weapon being activated, but due to their Jedi training, tranquility and trust in one another poured throughout their bodies rather than fear. The sound was getting closer, and the young boy raised his weapon across his chest defensively, ready to fight to protect his friends. Behind him, he heard as Y/N lit her own lightsaber.
But when their intruders revealed themselves, both padawans swiftly dulled their blades and felt their cheeks flush bright red, a different kind of fear and embarrassment echoing through their bodies. Jedi Master's Shaak Ti and Stass Allie stood before him, each tilting their heads and cocking an eyebrow, as to question whether the padawans would dare to strike them.
Obi-Wan panicked, his breathing becoming hitched. What if the Council viewed this as extreme because of his previous actions? What if they used this to kick him off of the mission with Qui-Gon Jinn, or what if Qui-Gon used this to cut him off? After everything that he had done, all the hardships he had faced to remain a Jedi, he was about to lose it all because of a night of fun with some friends!
His panic subsided a slight when a soft smile spread across Stass Allie's face.
"It appears Master," she began, addressing Shaak Ti, "That our intruders are not intruders at all."
"So it does," the Togruta replied with a silken voice, "They're just some mischievous padawans."
All at once, it appeared that the conscious younglings had begun to talk, their chattering all blending into one incoherent noise. Shaak Ti raised a tangerine hand, laughing gently.
"It is okay young ones, you're not in trouble," she reassured them, "As long as this is the last time."
They nodded fervently, threatening to give themselves whip lash.
"Or at least try to sneak out of the Temple if you're going to break curfew," Stass Allie joked, but a tender glare from the other Master made her add, "I'm kidding, of course."
When Shaak Ti wasn't looking, she gave Obi-Wan a wink.
The Togruta Master glided over to Quinlan, brushing a few strands of his hair from his face. Despite all of the noise, he had still somehow managed to stay asleep. Shaak Ti snaked her hands beneath him, hoisting the boy up from the ground as if he weighed nothing, which Obi-Wan knew was the furthest thing from the truth. Quinlan was once of the densest objections within the whole universe; many times Obi-Wan had found himself pinned to the ground beneath Quinlan's deceptive body, struggling to get air back into his lungs.
"Right, let us hurry, he's heavier than he looks," she panted, "To your chambers, come now."
A gently rap had woken him from his sleep. Eyes suffused with sleep, Obi-Wan stumbled to his door and it hissed open as he yawned, arms reaching above his head. Before him, stood a sheepish looking Y/N, whose hair was all pulled back into a knot at the back of her head, asides from her braid which hung loosely down on her left shoulder. She fiddled with her fingers. Obi-Wan blinked, twice, to make sure he wasn't seeing things and then stepped to the side, to allow her in.
"Breaking curfew twice in one night, huh?" he joked, voice laden with sleep, "Y/N?"
She turned to look at him, "Obi-Wan..." and then turned away abruptly, focusing her inquisitive gaze on the array of objects that lay scattered across the boys room. Her fingers trailed across the rocks that adorned his desk, each of them personal souvenirs that he picked from planets he had visited. He watched her with a warm gaze, knowing that she would speak when she was ready. She thinks and moves and looks exactly as she talks, he recalled. That was patiently but clearly.
"Please be safe," she suddenly announced, something brilliant woven into her lucidity.
Obi-Wan furrowed his eyebrows, then laughed, "Of course I'll be safe Y/N! I wasn't planning on ending up in slavery on Phindar, you know that right? I certainly don't intend to make a habit out of it."
Y/N was now perched on his bed, frizzy strands of hair escaping their confinement and framing her face. She pushed a small hand through them as she peered intently at the ground before her, "I know, I just -"
Obi-Wan made his way over to her, now sitting slightly behind her on the bed so that his back was flush with the wall. The early morning was silent and crystalline, he was suddenly vividly aware of the steady pounding of his heart and if he focused hard enough, he could hear the murmurs of Y/N's racing thoughts. He pulled back, knowing that she would not appreciate his prying, and if there was one padawan that Obi-Wan feared in the whole Temple, it was Y/N.
Suddenly, she turned to look back at him, eyes swelling with plump tears, "I just have this awful feeling that this is the last time I'm going to see you!" she sniffed, brushing away the fat drops, "The Force keeps telling me that you won't come back!"
He would be lying if he denied that her words didn't strike fear within him, but the boy pushed aside his own apprehensions in order to comfort his friend. Y/N was one of the strongest padawans he knew, and she had a strong and powerful path ahead of her. She didn't scare easily, she wore her emotions close to her surface but never seemed to let them crash over her and blind her, something that Obi-Wan was envious of. He reached to his creche mate, pulling her into him so he could give her a gentle hug. It scared him more that she was so worked up.
"Y/N, I'm going to be fine!" he cooed reassuringly, "Do you really think that Master Qui-Gon would let anything happen to me?"
A beat passed, and then she shook her head against his chest.
"See, everything will be okay," he breathed, and he was as certain about that as the floor beneath him was solid.
The girl pulled back, rims of her eyes raw as she raised a palm before him, "Promise me?"
Obi-Wan grasped her palm in his, squeezing tightly, "I promise."
Qui-Gon stepped silently into the room, a tray with a teapot and two cups on it clapsed in his hands. He wanted Obi-Wan up and ready to leave within the hour, but also wanted his padawan to have some energy. Stass Allie and Shaak Ti had filled him in on his padawans late night excursion through heartfelt giggles. Qui-Gon looked deep within and could find no shame or anger at his apprentice's actions, in fact, he had only found relied. He was glad the boy had found some time to relax and have some fun with people his own age, he had earned it and it was a form of companionship that the Master could not offer.
But when his eyes fell on the sight before him, a brief flash of alarm sung through him.
Obi-Wan lay upon his sheets, palm wrapped tightly in the hands of another padawan. Qui-Gon reached deep into his mind and recalled her name, it was Y/N. He now remembered that the two were quite close, almost inseparable as children and the dearest of friend.
The Jedi placed the tray on the table with expertise, not making a sound. Just as soon as the panic had arisen within him, it had subsided as he reached out through the Force, sensing for Obi-Wan and his emotions. Everything was natural and healthy, it was merely two friends who cared for one another and wished to show that to each other. Yes. In fact, it reminded the man of his friendship with Jedi Master Tahl, who would often lay a reassuring palm against his cheek, or wrap her arms languidly across his shoulders and hug him from behind when she needed support, or whenever she believed that he needed support, no matter how many times he told her he was fine.
She had always been secretly affectionate, since they were padawans, but ever seen Xanathos, her actions had increased.
Was he really that openly damaged by his old apprentice's betrayal?
Qui-Gon repressed that niggling question as soon as it had arisen. He had more important things to handle right now than his own insecurities and heartache. Gently, he crept across the room and crouched in front of the sleeping girl. He placed a large hand on her shoulder, giving it a little squeeze and reaching out to her through the Force, slowly coaxing her to wake up.
Y/N's eyes shunted behind closed lids, then slowly peeled open. Her eyelashes fluttered a few times and then shot wide open when she realised who had awoken her, a pale pink dusting across her cheeks. Qui-Gon chuckled, it was deep and earthy.
"It is okay young one, you're in no trouble," he reassured her, now stepping back away from the bed and towered above the small padawan, "But I must ask you to leave, I need to get Obi-Wan ready for our mission."
Y/N couldn't respond, instead she just nodded her head and almost sprinted to the door, heart hammering within her chest.
"And Y/N," Qui-Gon called gently after her, she turned to look at him still flustered, "I know that this was innocent, but just be warned that other Master's will not hold the same lenient view as I, okay?"
Again she jerked her head up and down uselessly and crept out of the room.
The Master now turned to look at his sleeping padawan, whose mouth was open and now freed hand clasping across his bed sheets, trying to find Y/N. Qui-Gon grinned.
"Fire!" he yelled, grasping Obi-Wan's shoulders and shaking him. The young boy jerked awake in a frenzy, but when he saw his Master bent over laughing, gasping for air, he glowered at the older man, trying to get his heart rate to level out.
"Tea is ready," Qui-Gon grinned, "We leave for Gala in less than hour so hurry."