"Deeper, just a little deeper. Hold on, I need to get a little deeper, and then it'll all be over."
Raucous laughter behind Obi-Wan interrupted his murmuring. "You are such a loser, Oafy-Wan."
The taunt from his daily tormentor angered Obi-Wan. His jaw clenched in response, but he kept his touch gentle, digging into the soft dirt, his fingers searching for the end of the weed in his hand, determined to dig up its entire root. Morning liliath looked like an innocuous little flower but if its entire root wasn't dug out, it could take over an entire garden, strangling everything except the biggest trees. "Leave me alone, Bruck."
"You don't even know how stupid you sound, do you Oafy-Wan?"
"I don't sound stupid. Master Yoda says it's good to talk to all living things." Obi-Wan was very fond of Master Yoda, taking his instructions to heart, even if the aged Jedi did assign to him to work the Temple's garden far too often in Obi-Wan's opinion.
"You sounded like you were having sex with a weed, Oafy-Wan. Not that any human will ever want to have sex with you. Except maybe other losers."
Obi-Wan's cheeks burned with shame, finally realizing what his words had sounded like. He hadn't done anything yet – truly, he didn't even want to do anything – but he'd squirmed through the Temple classes on health and sexual education, and understood what Bruck meant. "You're crude."
Bruck only laughed again. "Better crude than stupid."
"Is there a problem here?" The words coming from behind and to the left surprised Obi-Wan into loosening his hold on the weed. He started to topple forwards, but didn't want to bruise the Alferian fern that the Morning Liliath was hiding under, so threw himself backwards, coming to rest on the walkway, staring up – and seemingly up and up – at a tall Jedi, undoubtedly a Master or a Senior Knight.
Bruck spoke before Obi-Wan could respond. "I was commenting on this garden, Master Jinn. The Force is very strong here, isn't it?"
Master Jinn nodded as if Bruck had said something very wise. "Yes Initiate, it is. I'm pleased that you recognize that fact. Most initiates of your age feel the Force more strongly in sentient than plant life."
"Initiate Bruck Chun, sir. It's a pleasure to meet you." Bruck and the Master bowed to each other as Obi-Wan twisted over and got his feet under him.
"I'll leave you two to your duties then." The Master strode away. Obi-Wan brushed the dirt off his trousers, staring in dismay as the Master disappeared down the walkway. He hadn't had a chance to even introduce himself to the Master. Bruck kicked him in the shin and surprised, Obi-Wan jumped in place, bringing the injured leg up, clasping it. "Bruck!"
But the other initiate wasn't paying any attention to Obi-Wan, strutting away, obviously well pleased with the encounter. The desire to chase after Bruck, to tackle him and pound on him, to hurt Bruck as much as he'd embarrassed Obi-Wan was almost a physical pain within Obi-Wan. He put his leg down, intending to follow Bruck, but his boot rested unevenly on the edge of the walkway, causing his leg to twist. He lost his balance and with a yelp, Obi-Wan fell sideways.
Cradling his leg for the second time that morning, Obi-Wan rolled onto his back, staring at the sky, cursing both Bruck and himself. He'd looked like an idiot in front of a Master, while Bruck appeared to be an advanced student. Why did these things always happen to him? Why did Bruck always come out on top? He'd never become a Padawan, never.
"Now you, big boy, are not being tackled without some serious protection." Obi-Wan put his hands on his hips and glared at the impressive specimen in front of him. "You're too big to tackle with bare skin." But would gloves be enough? Perhaps he should put his under tunic back on to cover his bare arms. "Are you going to scratch up my skin, you monster you? Or are you going to behave?"
The Senglonian tree rose didn't deign to respond, its huge purple blooms, wide blue green leaves, and long pointy thorns remaining quiet. And threatening, definitely threatening. Obi-Wan admired the plant for its gorgeous roses almost as much as he disliked its exceedingly sharp thorns. "Yes, definitely more protection, I think."
He turned to pick up his under tunic and almost slammed into Bruck. The other initiate just shook his head with a derogatory, 'you're such an idiot', expression.
"Oh shut up Bruck!" Obi-Wan yelled.
"Is something wrong, Obi-Wan?" Bruck asked courteously.
Taken aback, Obi-Wan gaped at Bruck.
"Maybe you've been working too hard in the sun. You should take a rest."
Bruck? Bruck was being nice to him? Movement over Bruck's shoulder caught Obi-Wan's attention, and he saw the tall body of Master Jinn uncoiling from a meditative pose on the ground. Right where he would have heard Obi-Wan talk dirty to a plant and yell at Bruck for saying nothing.
Frustration brought tears to Obi-Wan's eyes, but he blinked fiercely to stop them falling. "Thank you for your consideration," he gritted. "But I have more to do." He bent down, grabbing his under tunic and turning away from Bruck to yank it on, ignoring that it wasn't designed to be worn on top of the over tunic, and it fit badly.
"Don’t work too hard, Obi-Wan." Bruck's voice was so sickly sweet, Obi-Wan wanted to turn around and punch him. Instead, he ignored Bruck, kneeling by the tree rose, grabbing one of suckers protruding from its base. He hadn't taken the time to get his gloves, and was instantly struck by a thorn. He yelped before sticking his thumb into his mouth.
"Here Obi-Wan. I think you need these." A pair of sturdy gloves dropped at his feet.
Obi-Wan couldn't force out words of thanks. Behind him, he could hear Bruck saying a few polite words to Master Jinn, and the Master's casual response before they moved off. He waited until the noise of their steps died before picking up the gloves. Sighing, he put them on and picked up the clippers. If he was going to end up in Agri-corps, he might as well practice his pruning.
"You may be tough and solid, but you're going down. I'm going to reduce you to little pieces. You're going to be soft and relaxed when I'm done." Obi-Wan adjusted his grasp on the shovel and dug it deeply into the soil, using his boot on one edge of the blade to add pressure.
"Oafy-Wan talks to the dirt. Do you think it's going to answer more than the weeds?"
Obi-Wan didn't react. He didn't look at Bruck. He didn't talk to him, or yell at him. He gritted his teeth, kept his face composed, and shoveled dirt. Master Yoga had asked him to work this section of ground, the hard clay-like soil from the outer reaches of Keflas, in preparation for planting some new cuttings. The dirt needed to be broken up and nutrients mixed in.
Obi-Wan had a task, a small job but one that a Master had requested him to do. He was going to perform his duty, and completely ignore Bruck. Non-responsiveness was much better than embarrassing himself or looking ridiculous.
"What are you doing Obi-Wan?"
Turn the dirt, break it up, dig the shovel back in. Turn the dirt, break it up, dig the shovel back in.
"Aren't you going to talk to me, Obi-Wan?"
Turn the dirt, break it up, dig the shovel back in. Turn the dirt, break it up, dig the shovel back in. Maybe being assigned to Agri-Corps wouldn't be so horrible. There was a certain meditative rhythm and peace in gardening chores.
"It's not polite to ignore people. A Jedi must be courteous."
Oh … Force. "Yes, Master Jinn."
"Initiate Chun asked you a question."
"I'm sorry, Bruck." Obi-Wan turned to look at Bruck, the other initiate's expression seemingly sincere while his eyes sneered at Obi-Wan's humiliation. "I was distracted. What did you say?"
"I asked if you needed help."
Obi-Wan hesitated. He didn't want Bruck's help. He didn't want the other boy hanging around, not that he thought Bruck would remain than a few seconds after Master Jinn left the vicinity. But he didn't want to refuse Bruck's offer and look churlish. "Thank you, Bruck, but it's a small plot. I think we'd get in each other's way."
"If you're sure … ?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Thank you," he added, forcing the words out, relieved that Master Jinn appeared to be accepting his politeness as valid. He was really beginning to wish that Master Yoda wouldn't keep requesting him to work in the same garden Master Jinn chose for his daily meditation.
Bruck angled his head to look up at Master Jinn. "Since I can't help Obi-Wan, perhaps I could talk to you for a while, Master Jinn? I understand that you're an expert on the Living Force. Master Yoda was explaining the difference between the Unifying and the Living Force in his lecture today, but I had a few more questions I wanted to ask."
"Certainly, Initiate Chun. Come, walk with me." The two strolled off down the stone walk way, Bruck animatedly asking questions that Obi-Wan was sure didn't really matter to him. He sighed, and stabbed the dirt with his shovel.
Agri-Corps, here I come, he thought.
Obi-Wan frowned intently at the Dooian pine, choosing his route. With the loppers tucked into his belt, he climbed into the tree, setting himself carefully at the intersection of two branches. He snipped precisely at the smaller growths, shaping the tree from the inside out.
He cleared the area he could reach, then swung one leg over the branch, walking on a lower branch to reposition himself. An ominous creaking sounded under his feet. With the loppers in one hand, he wrapped his other arm quickly around a branch close to him as the one below his feet cracked and broke, plummeting to the ground beneath him. Dangling in mid-air, he considered his options. Lift himself one-handed back into the tree, or assess the damage from below? The easy snapping of the branch indicated that this tree had not been adequately watered or pruned during its long life. He looked down, noting where the limb had fallen, before giving a little swing and letting go. His feet touched the ground a second before he rolled, holding the loppers closed and into his chest, coming to a stop on his back, looking up at the pine. And Bruck. Force.
Bruck shook his head in mock dismay. "I’m almost going to miss you, Obi-Wan."
"I'm not 13 yet. I have time still."
"You do." Bruck smirked. "But I don't. I'll be going on missions soon. I've been chosen." He tugged at the short padawan braid on the side of his head, created by a few strands of gray hair fused to the end of Bruck's white hair.
"Congratulations," Obi-Wan said, his tone hollow. Bruck had a Master and Obi-Wan only had a few months left to find his own, with no prospects in sight. The knowledge was a white fungus ball in the pit of his stomach, nasty and mushy.
"My Master is Count Dooku. He's almost never on Coruscant. He's a great warrior. He saw me practicing this morning and asked me to be his padawan immediately. He said he could see that I would be a great warrior too."
The fungus ball burst like a flame-crested gladiola unfurling at the first touch of the sun's rays. "You be more than a great warrior, Bruck. You be a great Jedi."
Bruck blinked in shock and back up as Obi-Wan lithely rolled to his feet and dropped the loppers, advancing on him. Poking Bruck on his chest with one finger, Obi-Wan commanded, "You must know people, Bruck. People. Not just how to fight."
"What do you know about people, Oafy-Wan?" Bruck sneered. "All you know is these stupid plants."
Obi-Wan was almost shaking with his anger at the injustice of Bruck being chosen. How could someone who thought himself so superior make a great Jedi knight? "I know more than you, Bruck. I know people are like plants. I know they need water and food and care to grow and flourish. I know some of them can survive a long time without the necessities, but sometimes they become stunted and grow twisted and bad.
" I know you can't judge from appearances. Sometimes the most beautiful flowers are the worst, sucking the soil of nutrients and offering nothing in return. And the plainest or ugliest can be the best to have in a garden, giving fragrance or food.
"I know the most inoffensive looking weed can send its roots everywhere, clogging out its neighbors. And the biggest, glossiest, strongest-looking plants can be hurt with a single touch in the wrong place.
"But most of all, Bruck," Obi-Wan felt a sob rising in his throat and breathed hard to let it go, "I know that we need them all, that they're all valuable, and they all contribute. In some way, they all contribute, even if just to be admired or to keep us on our guard. We owe it to the Force to take care of them all. You remember that, Bruck. You remember it."
Bruck stood in silence for a moment, shocked by Obi-Wan's outburst. Quietly, he answered, "I'll remember it."
Obi-Wan nodded his head and pressed his lips together, glancing away, feeling a sudden wash of shame at his loss of control mixed with hope that he'd bludgeoned through Bruck's smugness. Maybe the Padawan would do justice to the Jedi. Maybe.
Bruck squeezed him awkwardly on the shoulder. "You take care of yourself, Obi-Wan."
"I think you should return to your Master now, Padawan Chun." Master Jinn's voice broke into the scene, causing Obi-Wan to grimace with hopelessness. Would he always look like a fool in front of this man?
"Yes Master Jinn," was Bruck's subdued response before he left.
"Come walk with me, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan tried to avoid the coming lecture he knew he would receive about yelling at his now superior. "I have to clear the branch, Master Jinn. It's fallen on the walkway and the crechelings play in this garden."
"But not until the afternoon, I believe. We'll come back to it before then," Master Jinn replied, and Obi-Wan knew he had no hope. He followed Master Jinn to one of the white meditation benches, trying to discreetly brush the dirt from his fall off his clothes.
"I have observed you for a number of months, Obi-Wan."
"You have?" Obi-Wan knew that Master Jinn had seen him in the gardens several times, mostly at the worst moments, but he'd never thought the Master was intentionally observing him.
"Yes, I have. Tell me, are you aware of what happened with my former padawan?"
"No, Master Jinn." Obi-Wan had strenuously avoided any mention of this man who kept seeing his misadventures with Bruck. He wasn't like Bruck, always scheming and digging for news and gossip on other people.
"Ah." Master Jinn didn't speak for a long time until Obi-Wan wanted to fidget. "He turned to the dark side."
Obi-Wan wasn't sure how to respond, but finally settled on, "I'm sorry."
"My former padawan was a great student in many ways. He was a fantastic fighter and very skilled in negotiation, particularly when it involved manipulation."
Manipulation? That seemed like an odd ability for a Jedi to use, though Bruck would probably find it useful. "Yes, Master Jinn."
"My former Master, and indeed, his Master, have urged me to take a new padawan for several years. They feel that it is a loss to the Jedi order that I haven't been training a new student."
"I'm sure it is, Master Jinn," Obi-Wan agreed, wondering where this conversation was heading, as it seemed far distant from Obi-Wan yelling at Bruck.
"I was blinded by my padawan. I could not see that his confidence was built on arrogance, not humility. I determined not to take another padawan until I found someone who was more self-aware and less self-centered. Someone who was responsible and diligent. Someone who wanted to be a Knight to do good, not for the glory."
"Master?" A crazy hope was flooding through Obi-Wan, as Master Jinn slipped off the bench and knelt on one knee in front of him.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, I ask that you pledge yourself to me and to the Jedi, to be my padawan, to remain by my side until you achieve your knighthood. I ask that you share your wisdom of people and plants with me, as I teach you the duties and responsibilities of being a Jedi. Obi-Wan Kenobi, will you say yes?"
Obi-Wan took Qui-Gon's outstretched hands, astonished and trembling faintly with happiness. "Yes, Master Jinn, I pledge myself to you and to the Jedi, to be your padawan, learning everything you teach me and fulfilling my duties and responsibilities as a Jedi."
"And teaching me all you know," Master Jinn prompted, squeezing his hands.
Disbelieving that he could teach anything to this great man, Obi-Wan added, "And teaching you everything I know."
"Then come Padawan. We have a branch to clear and a braid to create."
Obi-Wan threw his head back and laughed, leaping up as Master Jinn stood. Impulsively, he hugged his new master and was pleased to feel long arms surrounding him, hugging him back.
A Padawan. He was a Padawan now. Master Jinn began talking as they walked to the broken branch and cut it up, speaking of how they would need to move Obi-Wan's possessions to his quarters, to plan Obi-Wan's new curriculum, to study for their first mission. Obi-Wan could barely absorb his words. He looked around the garden, at the towering trees, squat bushes, the stunning flowers, even the patches of ground cover. He could have been content in Agri-Corps, finding satisfaction in the planning, pruning and feeding of plants, helping to feed thousands of people on dozens of worlds.
But now he would find contentment and satisfaction and hard work and perhaps even misery and grief in something even grander, even greater, in the most amazing way that he could spend his life. The Force had blessed him. His dream was fulfilled. He would be a Jedi Knight.
~ the end ~