"Obi-Wan is good at parties," Dooku commented. The distinguished Jedi looked quite comfortable himself in the party setting, his normally severe black clothes accented with sleek touches of silver, his silver hair, mustache and beard newly trimmed.
Qui-Gon looked at his padawan across the room, and wondered if he was being too sensitive, hearing an implied "at least" in front of his old master's comment. Obi-Wan was a very handsome young man, dressed in formal Jedi attire, elegantly white tunic and trousers, soft brown shoes instead of his more practical boots, and he was smiling, talking easily with the Chancellor. Qui-Gon was very proud of his padawan's ease in social settings, an important ability when so many political negotiations were accomplished at parties. Deliberately deciding not to take offense, Qui-Gon scanned the room until he saw Dooku's padawan. "Bruck seems to be having an interesting conversation with the princess." The princess was giggling, clearly pleased to be chatting with Bruck, whose white hair made him look even more striking than Obi-Wan in their formal whites. Indeed, amongst the gaudy colors and overly fussy clothes worn by the members of the Thestian court, the simplicity and purity of the
padawans appearance made them the two most noticeable people.
"Bruck is a young man, focused too much on young women," Dooku said disapprovingly, making Qui-Gon remember his own days as Dooku's padawan. The Count was a brilliant Jedi and unusual in retaining connections to his influential birth family, which gave him a unique advantage in the political arena. He'd been very effective in mentoring Qui-Gon during his padawan years, particularly in his ability to make his disapproval known. The lessons had been good, but occasionally hard, and Qui-Gon hoped that he was teaching his padawan the necessary lessons without the same harshness.
"It was very fortunate that the two of you could be here," Qui-Gon said pleasantly.
Dooku gave that faint smile that said he knew when his input was being sidestepped. "You don't want my opinion on your padawan, do you Qui-Gon?"
Qui-Gon returned an innocuous smile. Though he respected his Master, he'd wondered more and more about how often their paths crossed as they trained their new padawans. Did the Jedi Council mistrust his ability to teach Obi-Wan, after his disastrous failure with Xanatos? Or was Dooku playing some game of his own? Both were real possibilities that he found frustrating. He'd have to talk to Yoda when they returned to Coruscant and try to wiggle a straight answer out of the often-evasive Master. "Of course I always value your input, my master. But I don't know if this is the appropriate venue for such a discussion."
"Now you're sounding as conservative as he is, Qui-Gon. And he is too conservative."
Remembering how often Dooku had criticized him for being too rebellious, Qui-Gon stifled a smile, knowing that the other man would not appreciate having his inconsistency noted. Dooku rarely appreciated criticism. "I appreciate your insightful comment, Master, as I'm sure you'll appreciate my input that your own padawan is too risky. Bruck acts quickly, often before he checks for pitfalls."
"Yes." Dooku frowned, his eyes going between the two. "An astute observation, Qui-Gon. They would make a good pairing, wouldn't they? Both attractive, both good with people. Obi-Wan could curb Bruck's impulsiveness, and Bruck would force Obi-Wan not to be so plodding. They would work together well as Knights."
'Plodding' wasn't how Qui-Gon would have described Obi-Wan's temperament, and he found the thought of Bruck and Obi-Wan working together strangely disturbing. "It's an interesting idea," he responded neutrally, "but many years off. I see that the Chancellor is being dragged away from Obi-Wan...perhaps you should break up Bruck's conversation with the princess before he ends up engaged?"
"Yes," Dooku responded heartily. "One of those situations was quite enough." The two separated, winding through the crowds to their padawans.
Automatically smiling at courtiers as he stepped around them, Qui-Gon resolved that he would talk to Yoda upon their return to Coruscant. Instead of just asking if Dooku was being sent to check on Qui-Gon, though, he'd asked if Qui-Gon was being used to provide a counterpoint to Dooku's instruction of Bruck. Now that the possibility had occurred to him, he could easily see the aged master arranging such a balancing act.
Obi-Wan was sleeping heavily, wrapped in a dream he would never remember, but bolted awake at the touch of a hand on his shoulder. Sitting upright, he registered his Master perched on the edge of his bed, shaking him awake. Count Dooku stood behind him. They were still dressed in their party clothes, Dooku in the black and silver that seemed too stern for a Jedi, Qui-Gon very majestic in dark brown. Across the room, Bruck still slept, his white braid draping off the bed. "Master? What's wrong?"
Qui-Gon's voice was terse. "The Chancellor has decided to call off negotiations. He's going to attack the rebels with full force and not stop until all are hunted down."
Bruck was waking up, yawning as Obi-Wan asked, "Master?" His astonishment was too great to voice an articulate question. The negotiations had barely begun, with only the introductions and welcoming speeches having been handled before the celebratory ball. In Obi-Wan's limited experience, negotiations weren't broken off until several days of the disputing parties yelling at each other and having to be calmed by the Jedi.
Dooku turned to Bruck at the yawn. "Get up and get packed. We're leaving immediately." Bruck's sleepiness instantly dissolved as he leapt out of bed and began dressing.
Qui-Gon's blue eyes were intent on his padawan's face, ignoring Dooku and Bruck. "Obi-Wan, when the Chancellor told us of his decision, he made a reference to your words at the ball tonight. He said they had given him much food for thought."
"My words, Master?" Obi-Wan quailed inwardly. He dreamed one day of being known for his words, wise words that calmed angry people, that made them see and appreciate each other's point. He'd never intended to speak words that led to the ending of negotiations.
"Yours, Obi-Wan. What did you say to him?"
Obi-Wan's mind raced to remember the details of their conversation. "We talked about gardening, Master! That's all."
"Be specific, Obi-Wan. Tell us exactly what you discussed."
Obi-Wan glanced at Bruck, hastily pulling on his clothes, at Dooku looming over the seated Qui-Gon. Dooku was staring at him, fists braced on his hips, while Bruck sent him constant peeks as he stamped into his boots. "The mission briefing said that the Chancellor enjoyed gardening as a hobby, so I complimented the floral arrangements."
"He told me about some of the flowers, the night blooming lilies, the shade orchids, and the glory of this world, the Thestian rose."
"Not that specific," Dooku interrupted sharply, as Bruck began tossing his clothes into his bag.
"I admired the Thestian rose and said how its color was similar to the pink of the morning liliath that invaded the Temple garden. Only the rose is much larger and more beautiful than the liliath, of course. I didn't want to imply an insult to the Thestian rose."
The rest of the conversation finally flashed through Obi-Wan's mind, to his horror. Qui-Gon's blue eyes became even more intent, two twin light sabers pointed at him, and Obi-Wan knew his expression revealed his guilt. "What, Obi-Wan? What did you say after that?"
"I talked about how I used to weed the Temple garden, and how the morning liliath could be particularly difficult, because it had lots of thin roots that spread everywhere and dug deep." Obi-Wan heard the faltering of his own voice, how it dropped and softened in shame. He took a breath, steadying himself, and made his volume rise to a normal level. "And that I would have to make sure I pulled out every thin root, no matter how small, in order to stop the weed from returning. They particularly like to climb the Senglonian tree roses, which are considered the most beautiful in the garden."
"Force," Dooku said softly, with a tone that Obi-Wan could have sworn was admiring.
Qui-Gon rubbed at the bridge of his nose, as if pained. "Was there more?"
"He said, you did that as a Jedi padawan? And I said yes, that was how I worked in the garden. Or something like that. Then we got interrupted..." Obi-Wan's words trailed off, his heart aching as he realized the extent of his folly. He glanced over at Bruck, expecting to see the other padawan grin mockingly at him, and was surprised by the sympathy in his eyes.
"He thought we were using you to give unofficial advice. That the negotiations were pointless and that he should take action." To Obi-Wan's confusion, he could swear Dooku definitely sounded pleased.
"And he's taking it," Qui-Gon added, dimming Obi-Wan's hopes that he'd reached the wrong conclusion.
"Master, I never meant - " Words could never apologize enough, but they were all Obi-Wan had to offer.
"We know, Obi-Wan, we know." Qui-Gon's rested a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. "This is my flaw."
Obi-Wan rebelled at the thought of his beloved Master taking responsibility for his mistake. "It was my mistake, Master. I should not have said something so open to misinterpretation. It was - it was just a party, Master. I was trying to be sociable."
"And I should have taught you more carefully that as a Jedi, you are always viewed as a Jedi. It is a hard lesson to learn, but you can never relax. You can never forget that others do not view you as a person, but as a representative of the Jedi Council."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan murmured.
"I'm packed, Master," Bruck inserted, swinging his bag over his shoulder. Obi-Wan felt grateful for the momentary distraction.
"We'll check on our flight arrangements, Qui-Gon. We'll see you outside, by the gate." Dooku and Bruck swept out the bedroom door.
"I am very sorry, Master. Please believe me that I never dreamed my words would be so misinterpreted."
Qui-Gon gave him another reassuring squeeze. "When we return to Coruscant, you should ask Master Yoda to tell you the story of his mission to Daro. It was his first as a Knight, many years ago. I think he will feel it is time to share it with you."
Qui-Gon looked significantly at the door. "It was a story he shared with me once, and I believe he has had occasion to share it with all of his padawans. Or at least, I am not aware of any who have not needed to hear it."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said faintly, trying to imagine either Qui-Gon or the Count making such a hideous mistake. The possibility was difficult to believe.
"Get dressed. I'll pack for you."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan scrambled from under the covers, quickly exchanging his night trousers for day clothes, his mind reeling between the realization that open warfare was about to explode and wondering how Yoda could say anything that might make this evening less of a nightmare.
Yoda leaned on his cane as he studied his newest grand-padawan in the Temple garden. Obi-Wan was a beautiful young man, and he looked particularly attractive in his cream tunics and trousers, surrounded by masses of blooming roses. He was clipping carefully at the Senglonian tree rose, a beautiful purple rose with wide blue green leaves. Yoda was grateful that Obi-Wan still worked in the gardens during his time on Coruscant, even though most initiates were grateful to surrender the duty as soon as they became padawans. But then, Obi-Wan was an incredibly dedicated student, who would be a great Jedi Knight one day.
Not that Obi-Wan had demonstrated that future greatness with his latest negotiations. Yoda walked closer, his wood cane clunking on the stone path. "Obi-Wan."
"Master Yoda." Obi-Wan appeared calm, not disturbed by Yoda's presence or what it might mean.
"Hear that you need a story, I do."
Obi-Wan carefully snipped off another rose, depositing the bloom in a basket filled with more of the long-stem beauties. "I appreciate your coming to see me, Master, but I do not believe I do," he said mildly.
"Think you have resolved everything, do you? Learned from your mistakes?" Yoda was bemused but pleased by Obi-Wan's resistance to hearing about his own flawed history. Most of his earlier padawans had craved the reassurance of knowing that their master was not perfect.
Taking off his thick gloves, Obi-Wan tucked them into his belt. "I've been meditating as I worked, Master. I find the gardens very useful for organizing my thoughts."
"And what think you?" Yoda waved toward the closest bench, and Obi-Wan picked up his basket - baskets, Yoda realized, as the padawan scooped up another that had been half-hidden by a bush. The padawan must have been working and meditating for several hours.
Obi-Wan didn't speak until they had settled on the white bench, one of the baskets on his lap, the other on the ground in front of him. When he met Yoda's gaze, his own eyes were calm. "That I made an enormous mistake with the Thestian Chancellor. That I was careless. That I forgot that I am constantly judged as a Jedi every minute of my life. And that people are dying for my carelessness." His eyes grew troubled, shadows lurking in the beautiful depths as he obviously contemplated the bloodshed that was still occurring on Thest. He nodded to himself, and his voice trembled but then steadied again. "But that this was the Will of the Force, and that I can only accept it and learn from it and be more conscientious in the future."
Yoda nodded, pleased with Obi-Wan's meditations. To come to such acceptance demonstrated great maturity. "Wise you are, my padawan's padawan's padawan."
Obi-Wan smiled wryly. "I will always wish that I'd been wiser before Thest, but as Qui-Gon is fond of saying, I must live in the moment. And while I always appreciate hearing about your past, Master, I am a Jedi. I should not need the reassurance of other people's mistakes."
"Hard lessons you have learned, padawan. Many do not learn them as young as you are. Pleased I am."
"Thank you, Master." Looking down, Obi-Wan picked up one of the flowers in the basket, carefully picking off its huge thorns, a small sign of nervousness. "Master, there was one thing I wished to ask you."
"It seems as if Count Dooku and Bruck are frequently in our presence, in instances where two Jedi teams are not necessary. I wondered if there was a reason."
Yoda arched his ears. "Confident are you that two teams are not needed? Doubt you the strategic wisdom of the Jedi Council?"
Obi-Wan flushed at the subtle rebuke. "I am familiar with the many difficulties on the Republic's worlds, and with Jedi resources. We are stretched to the limit. Qui-Gon has often lamented how long negotiations can last, how many parties and foolish civilities waste our time when other critical needs cry for our attention. I do not believe the Council would send two teams when one would suffice."
The padawan's logic and unwillingness to back down made Yoda's ears twitch in delight. Yes, Obi-Wan was a thoughtful, strong young man, and his meditations had served him well. "If agree I do, think you know what the reason is?"
"It has occurred to me that either Bruck or I may be perceived as needing the benefit of two Masters."
Yes, he'd done very well to throw Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan together. Though the two were very different in certain ways, they were compatible in many others, and often reached similar conclusions. Yoda hadn't satisfied Qui-Gon's need to know if Dooku or his abilities as a Master were being judged, and he didn't intend to satisfy Obi-Wan's concern either. He hadn't developed a reputation as a wise and mysterious Master by explaining his motivations when asked. "And what think you on that? Do you agree?"
Obi-Wan's hand fluttered over the rose, as if fighting not to squeeze it, and then he breathed slowly, carefully, stripping another thorn from the stalk. "I think it matters not what I think, that my Master and the Jedi Council will ensure that I receive the proper training. And I also think that fertilizer and water benefit both the plant and the weed, Master Yoda."
Yoda made a sound in his throat, one that he'd perfected fully 600 years ago, a nondescript noise that could be interpreted as approval or disagreement, depending on the listener's wishes. "Interesting they are, garden metaphors. Cultivate them you should."
Obi-Wan gave a startled laugh before grinning. "Yes, Master, perhaps I should. It seems appropriate given how close I came to being transferred to Agri-Corps. But I shall have to give them much more thought, and develop ones that are appropriate for encouraging peace."
Yoda hopped off the bench. "Look forward to hearing what you have developed, I do. See you at evening meal, shall I?"
"Yes, Master. I will see you then." Obi-Wan carefully plucked off another thorn. "And there shall be roses on the tables."
Satisfied, Yoda nodded and began tapping off. For 800 years he'd overseen many gardens, ensuring that each plant had water, food, good soil, and sunlight, all the necessities of life. Learning when to coddle a frail plant and when to hack at the diseased leaves had been difficult lessons to master, but he'd listened to the wind and the rain and trusted in the seasons. He was most pleased with his current crop, which were growing into the most beautiful and sturdy plants he'd ever cultivated.
Perhaps this crop would even have the most precious one, the one to start the new garden.
~ the end ~