“Look. All I'm saying is that after everything I went through with Anakin, I'm not unduly concerned.”
Luminara set her plate down, slipping onto the bench across from him with a quirked eyebrow. “Do I hear my name being taken in vain, Master Kenobi?”
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “You know,” he said as she took a roll from his plate and calmly tore it in half, “That was very clever thirteen years ago.”
Quinlan cleared his throat and passed her a low bowl of some sort of herb dip for her roll.
“That was mine,” Obi-Wan pointed out.
Quinlan placed a hand on his shoulder. “Attachment,” he said solemnly. “You must learn to let go even of those things that are most precious to—”
He couldn't keep a straight face, and Obi-Wan shoved him away as he broke into what was very nearly a cackle.
“Why do I even talk to you?” Obi-Wan asked, apparently, the ceiling.
“The benefit of my wisdom,” offered Quinlan. Luminara snorted, and he gave her a wounded look before folding his arms on the table. “So, Master Unduli Concerned. I was telling Kenobi here about your supposed padawan problems.”
“Yes,” said Obi-Wan, amused. “What has Barriss gotten into? Neglect to properly reshelve a library datapad? Scandalous, really. She'll be the downfall of the Order.”
Luminara sighed. “I wish I could say that much. It's beginning to concern me. We've been back on Coruscant a month and I don't think she's left the Temple once.” She rubbed her temples. “I'm not certain she's been out of the library.”
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes again. “Would you like to trade?” he asked. “You do remember the time Anakin shattered the glass along the western promenade, don't you?”
“And set the gardens on fire,” Quinlan added helpfully.
“All right, now, that was an accident, and after the stunt Aayla pulled I wouldn't be too eager to start pointing fingers.”
“Not her fault!” protested Quinlan.
Luminara shook her head. “Obi-Wan, I'm being serious. I'm beginning to worry for her. It's not healthy, the amount of time she spends alone. I wish she would get in trouble.” A pause while she thought about it, and then she added, “Though perhaps not to Skywalker's degree.”
Obi-Wan shook his head with a smile. “She's just a quiet person, Luminara,” he assured her. “If she prefers to spend her free time in the library, at least she's happy. There are far worse things she could be getting up to.”
“For example,” Quinlan offered. “She could be like you at that age.”
“The horror,” said Obi-Wan flatly.
Luminara glared at them. “I wrote her a schedule for our time here the morning after we landed,” she said, a challenge in her voice. “Classes. Study time. Blocks for meditation. Training and exercise sessions. Even a lights-out restriction. Everything.”
The others laughed fondly. “I remember those,” Quinlan grinned. “Luminara, she's only nineteen. A little rebellion is natural! She's still learning, she's just... doing it in her own way. For all you know she's hiding in the library because she doesn't want you to confront her about skipping some dry review session on a subject she probably knows by heart—”
“She's following it, Quin.” Luminara's voice was tinged with desperation. “To the letter.”
They stared at her.
“Oh,” said Obi-Wan after a long moment. “Well. That's... not normal.”
Luminara moaned and buried her head in her hands.
Quinlan finally looked disturbed. “Maybe you made it too reasonable?”
“I don't know how I could possibly have been less fair to her!” Luminara exclaimed. “She's meant to be resting and I have her in at least eleven entirely superfluous courses. She can't possibly gain anything from more than three of them. I thought surely by now...”
It was an unspoken tradition, for pity's sake. Masters were always required to have a schedule for their padawan learners while at the Temple; they were, of course, still students and it was expected that they would fill their time productively. But everyone up to and including the same Council that required those schedules knew that by the time a padawan was Barriss' age and level of advancement they were really in charge of their own education.
So their Masters would give them a meaningless schedule full of basic courses, and after a week the padawans would either drop the fluff or realize that the hours set aside for “studying” were utterly unnecessary, and use the time it freed up to speak to other Jedi, pursue their own interests, spend time talking and playing with friends, slip out into the city once in a while. Have sex. They were a large group of physically fit young adults who spent the vast majority of their lives on-duty; the brief periods of downtime at the Temple inevitably served to release tension in more ways than one.
(Not for the first time, Luminara thanked the Force that Barriss had never expressed any interest in that particular form of stress relief. There were concepts she was simply not prepared to deal with regarding the sweet-natured youngling she'd effectively raised.)
“Well...” Obi-Wan frowned. “She must be using the study time for her own interests, surely? No one ever needs the full blocks. They're effectively free time, every padawan knows that...” He winced as Luminara dropped her head into her arms. “No? Oh, dear.”
She raised her head just enough to give them a mournful look. “Just last night I asked her what her plans were for the evening,” she lamented. “She said she was going to meditate. I think she meant it, Obi-Wan.” Gingerly, Quinlan reached out and patted her shoulder.
“This isn't about me not wanting to attend to my studies, Master! I'm just saying, maybe my time might be better spent doing something, I don't know. Useful?”
“Hey, you never know when one of those lessons might come in handy. How many times have I saved the day because of a skill I learned as a padawan?”
Luminara, smirking slightly as she paused just around the corner, couldn't quite make out the reply. She thought it sounded like a muttered Less often than you think.
“I heard that.”
Deciding she was probably enjoying herself too much as it was, Luminara shook her head and walked around the corner.
Ahsoka smiled sweetly up at her master. “You were supposed to,” she informed him, matching his slightly mocking tone.
Skywalker looked distinctly unimpressed. “You don't have to like it, but that's the schedule I made for you. It's only for three weeks anyway, and I think it's important for you to have those classes. I don't know enough history to teach you everything, and you can't just learn politics from Padmé.”
Ahsoka held up a datapad incredulously. “'Underwater Basket-Weaving?'” she demanded. “Tell me when that's going to be useful! Really, Master. I'm all ears.”
Skywalker crossed his arms and smirked while his padawan glared up at him. “You don't even have ears, Snips,” he reminded her.
“What does that—I do too have—that's racist!”
“And,” he continued smugly. “What if one day we're on a mission on, oh... Mon Calamari, and we get separated. And then, since you're young and innocent and clearly need me to protect you—” Ahsoka spluttered indignantly. “You get captured by pirates.”
“Underwater pirates,” she said flatly.
“Exactly. And they're going to kill you, but then they realize they can use you as slave labor weaving baskets to hold all their loot, so you survive long enough for me to rescue you. You'd thank me then, wouldn't you?”
Reasonably certain she hadn't imagined Ahsoka's fingers twitching toward her lightsabers, Luminara cleared her throat lightly as she reached them. Skywalker turned to her; Ahsoka was still staring at her master with such a violent mixture of fury and incredulity that Luminara half expected his hair to catch fire.
“Master Skywalker,” Luminara greeted him with a nod.
“Master Unduli!” He grinned. “What can I do for you? Ahsoka, be polite.”
Ahsoka's eye twitched. “Hey, Master Luminara,” she said darkly.
Luminara glanced at her before speaking to her master. “I don't wish to hold you up, but I'm taking Barriss on a... training run in the morning, 0300 hours.” Barriss being aware of this, of course, was a very different story. “I thought perhaps your padawan might wish to come along.”
Anakin's smirk widened as he glanced at Ahsoka, whose expression had changed from resentment to tentative hope in the space of half a second. “I dunno...”
Somehow, they both managed not to laugh at the dismay that briefly crossed the young Togruta's face.
“There's room in the speeder for three,” Luminara assured them, meeting Ahsoka's pleading look with a smile. “I thought Ahsoka might benefit from learning alongside a more experienced padawan. But of course that decision lies with you entirely.”
“Please?” said Ahsoka sheepishly.
Skywalker pretended to deliberate for several more seconds before grinning and clapping her on the shoulder. “It's all right with me. But,” he added sternly, and Ahsoka rolled her eyes. “No more skipping classes. Got that, Snips?”
Ahsoka sighed. “Yes, Master.” Then, seemingly unable to hold it back, “Not even basket-weaving?”
She glared at him.
“See? Painless.” He grinned, and nodded to Luminara. “Thanks for having her along, Master Unduli.”
She smiled. “It's my pleasure, Skywalker.” She turned to Ahsoka. “I'm afraid Barriss is busy today, but I'm sure she'll be thrilled to see you in the morning. Come by her quarters when you're ready, and wear something comfortable.”
“We're leaving at 0300?” Ahsoka checked. Miraculous, the way a padawan's mood could be improved by the prospect of skipping basket-weaving. At Luminara's confirmation, she gave a casual salute. “I'll be there, Master. Thanks for the rescue.”
Luminara couldn't help but chuckle at that. “Not at all, padawan. I'll leave you to your studies.”
“There's really no hurry,” Ahsoka griped, but she quieted at a mild look. “All right, Master Unduli, I'm going. See you in the morning.”
The word scheming occurred to Luminara; she was only too happy to ignore it. Scheming was such an ugly word for... well, technical honesty with an ulterior motive. She was fairly certain Quinlan had coined that phrase.
That should probably worry her more than it did.
The last thing anyone could call Barriss Offee was a hedonist.
The Temple was all she'd ever known; she had lived her whole life in the monolith, grown up with bare walls and clean lines and function over form. It wasn't austere, exactly; especially not for the youngling clans. Even Jedi took care that their children were comfortable and given stimulating toys and games, opportunities to play, a warm and welcoming place to sleep that felt safe even in the dark. A youngling was not a padawan, and should not be expected to shoulder the burdens and responsibilities of a padawan.
There was never excess, though; Barriss had never known anything but the gentle, ever-present reminder that Jedi did not have possessions, that attachment—to objects, to people, to places—was natural but would cloud her vision. She had never needed to fear that she would have what she needed to live comfortably; she knew how lucky that made her. But the Jedi had only what they needed. Excess would lead to indolence. Her surroundings, while never quite stark, had always been utilitarian.
That didn't mean she appreciated this.
What woke her up initially was the sudden cold as her blanket was yanked off; she had enough time to make a faint, unhappy noise and curl into a ball in sleepy protest before a switch clicked across the room and her overhead light turned on.
“Good morning, Barriss!” Luminara called cheerfully.
Barriss' response was not among her more dignified moments; her master's voice coupled with the sudden brightness threw her into red alert with a jolt like a hyperspace jump. She scrambled upright fast enough that she managed to be out of bed before actually getting her feet under herself, and tumbled off the other side of the bed, yelping something foul in Togruti before she remembered that Luminara was standing at best a handful of feet away.
“Language,” Luminara chided the empty space where her apprentice had disappeared. Then, unexpectedly, there was a low whistle.
“Wow,” said Ahsoka's voice. “I'm a bad influence.”
“The thought has occurred to me,” Luminara conceded.
Blinking rapidly and trying to shake off the mental cobwebs, Barriss groped for the chronometer next to the bed. When she finally managed to turn it enough for her to see, her mind blanked.
There must have been a power outage of some sort during the night that reset the time. That was surely the only explanation.
“Master,” she slurred, and cut herself off with a massive yawn. “What time is...?”
Ahsoka waved from where she was for no apparent reason leaning against the doorframe, dressed for once in a standard-issue loose sparring tunic and looking unfairly prepared and alert. “Hey, Barriss. Sorry I'm late.”
“That's, um.” Barris stifled another yawn behind her hand and decided to just accept Ahsoka's unexplained presence. Thinking was too much work. “That's fine.”
Luminara stuck her head back in. “Not dressed yet, Barriss?”
Barriss jumped guiltily, body protesting as she hauled herself to her feet. “My apologies, Master, I—I'll do that.”
Her master's eyes sparkled as Barriss stumbled over herself trying to locate her skirt. “Five minutes, padawan.” She ducked back out of Barriss' room.
Head still foggy and reluctant to accept that she was awake, Barriss was too tired to care about Ahsoka's presence as she tried to remember to pull clothes on after removing her pajamas. To her credit, it only took two tries; to Ahsoka's, the young Togruta occupied her time apparently admiring the diamond pattern on the wall.
“Thanks for bringing me on your training run today,” Ahsoka said casually. “I was going crazy. I mean, Anakin's great, but yeesh.”
Barriss, fairly certain that bringing you on our what now? wasn't the response Ahsoka was looking for, yawned again and mumbled “It's no trouble.” She dragged a brush twice through her hair before giving up on it and being grateful for Mirialan head coverings.
Speaking of which, where was...?
“Here,” Ahsoka offered, holding out her hood. Barriss took it gratefully and patted herself down, just to be safe. She seemed to be wearing clothes in the right places, her socks matched... shoes, lightsaber, comlink.
“Thank you. I think that's everything... we shouldn't keep Master Luminara waiting.”
Ahsoka was giving her an uncomfortably knowing look.
“She totally didn't warn you about this, did she?”
Barriss cleared her throat. “Perhaps she forgot?”
Ahsoka laughed. “Sure she did.” She yawned and stretched her arms over her head; her spine audibly cracked, and she made a face. “Ready? Let's get going.”
“Master Luminara,” Ahsoka asked finally. “Why are we doing this, again?”
Enough time passed before Luminara replied that Ahsoka thought at first she wasn't going to answer.
“Consider it an exercise in patience, padawan,” she said calmly, without opening her eyes. “Alertness. Adaptability to new circumstances. Staying awake when your master is speaking, Barriss?”
There was a brief pause. Ahsoka leaned over and elbowed her friend in the ribs.
“What?” Barriss said hurriedly, eyes flying open as she jumped. “What was the question...?” Luminara gave her a bland look, and she seemed to crumple in on herself. “I'm sorry, Master.”
Luminara shook her head, laughter written in her face. “It's all right, Barriss. I expected to lose one or both of you eventually. And may I compliment you on your meditation techniques, which seem to have succeeded remarkably in allowing you to relax and empty your mind.”
Barriss flushed a slightly darker shade of olive, but her master's gentle teasing eventually coaxed out a shy smile in return.
Ahsoka noted to herself that none of this actually answered her question. They could just as easily have meditated in the middle of an empty parking lot five minutes from the Temple. During the day.
“Master Luminara,” she pointed out. “I think the cafe's open.”
“Ahsoka,” Barriss muttered.
“What? I'm just saying.” Luminara had handed them nutrient bars when they got in the speeder, but that had been almost four hours ago, and two of those hours had been spent sitting on cold concrete in the dark, trying to meditate with loud air traffic all around them. Ahsoka would seriously consider fighting her way through the entire Separatist army for something to eat. And hot caf. A lot of it.
Barriss rolled her eyes. The effect was kind of ruined by her stomach snarling half a second later.
Luminara's lips twitched. “Very well. Take half an hour, have a proper breakfast.” Barriss' grateful dip of the head and Ahsoka's enthusiastic thanks were interrupted with a smile that bordered on the sadistic. “It wouldn't do to have you running form drills on an empty stomach.”
It was probably still better than basket-weaving.
She took it back. Basket-weaving was a useful skill and she was sorry she'd ever mocked the necessity of spending eight hours a week learning it.
“Four?” Ahsoka guessed, twitching her fingers. A decorative fountain wobbled worryingly as it lifted off the ground.
“Seven,” corrected Barriss. “But the Wookies generally don't enter the bottom three.”
“Right.” Ahsoka wished the strain in her voice wasn't so obvious. “Silly me.”
Really. Underwater basket-weaving sounded great right about now.
Better than Upside-Down Trivia, at any rate.
“Master Unduli?” she called, legs flailing as she tried to adjust the three miniature fountains, two marble sculptures, and four delicate glass orbs she and Barriss were holding up and almost toppled over. Well, that was what happened when you were balancing on one hand. In a tree. While juggling lawn decorations in slow motion with the Force. And had been for the last forty-five standard minutes.
Well, she allowed. It was actually a nice break. These hanging gardens were beautiful—from what she'd been able to see of them before Luminara scrambled into the biggest tree she could find (she really needed to learn how Mirialans did this stuff in floor-length skirts) and laughed at them to follow her. And the management had been really nice allowing them to train here like this.
Especially after they'd spent half the morning scaring their customers away by holding a no-holds-barred dueling session in their parking lot.
Luminara hadn't let up on them until the sun was properly risen and they'd stretched, warmed up, and run through all the basic drills to her satisfaction at least three times. Then they'd done pair work, scripted exchanges of blows under her close supervision; several times Ahsoka had thought snarkily that all she needed was Master Yoda's poking stick to correct their stances with. But she'd actually seemed to know a lot about how to adapt standard forms to a reverse-grip—Ahsoka had learned more than she expected to.
It was the sparring that had exhausted them. Three rounds of Ahsoka and Barriss against one another (Final score: Barriss two, Ahsoka one. Luminara said she relied too much on her second blade, but it sure did come in handy when they somehow managed to disarm each other at the same time). Then a round each one-on-one with Luminara herself, where neither of them even came close but Ahsoka picked up quite a few new acrobatic moves she made a note to practice when they got back to the Temple. And then one final match that came close to being an all-out brawl, where Luminara—with only a single warning to them both to make sure to be aware of their blows, just in case—had both padawans team up facing her.
They'd left a few gouges in the parking lot. Luminara assured the hanging garden people that the Temple would pay for it.
Watching Barriss and Luminara fight was... well, actually it felt kind of wrong, seeing them on opposite sides of a blade lock. But with Luminara as calm and quietly confident as ever, smiling at her apprentice and calling encouragement and corrections whenever they broke apart, after the first few blows the sense of they shouldn't be fighting, someone make them stop wore off. Then Ahsoka could just focus on their technique. And...wow. They were like mirror images, a whirl of dark fabric and flashing blades.
It was nothing like watching her and Anakin together—she'd seen holos of them, every padawan watched their own sparring sessions to learn how to improve. She and her master were always trying to outdo each other, trying to be as unpredictable as possible and using raw power and hard, solid walls of attack and defense when they couldn't use surprise. Barriss and Luminara seemed to read each other's minds. They blocked before the other had even moved. They were all speed and precision, quickness over power.
Probably why Ahsoka had ended up bruised and pinned under a soft-spoken Mirialan making an apologetic face way more times today than she liked. It wasn't that she minded being pinned by Barriss, exactly, just. The lightsaber at her throat. She could do without that part.
After that, Ahsoka had thought they'd get a break. Luminara had managed to fight them both to a standstill before throwing Barriss bodily into Ahsoka and calmly calling their lightsabers when they dropped them in an attempt to not impale each other. She'd very calmly denied all accusations of cheating. They'd been a mess by the end of it; Barriss had gotten a large, smoking chunk of her skirt lopped off in their second duel and changed into a pair of leggings, Ahsoka felt like she'd left half the skin on her body embedded in the pavement, they were both sore and exhausted and covered in sweat.
Half an hour to rest wasn't that much to ask, was it?
Apparently it had been. They hadn't even bothered untangling themselves from each other before Luminara was calling for them to move on.
Ahsoka had taken one look at the unfairly fresh Jedi Master, groaned, and dropped her head back into Barriss' shoulder. The other padawan had patted her head in shared misery.
Luminara gave them time to cool off, of course—she might have no right to be this difficult to tire out, but she was responsible and Ahsoka knew her well enough to know she'd never risk injuring Barriss, or any other padawan in her care. But a few bacta patches later, the moment they'd come down from the intense sparring session she'd ushered them into the gardens and they'd started the worst game of Twenty Questions in the history of the galaxy.
“Master Unduli!” she called again, somewhat frantically.
Luminara's voice drifted down from somewhere in the branches above them, where she was leaning comfortably against the massive tree trunk and not doing a handstand. “Yes, Ahsoka, what is it?”
“Can we come down?” Ahsoka pleaded.
“Are there nine planets in the Alderaan system?” was the frustratingly even response.
“Uh...” A sculpture of a laughing anooba drifted slowly past Ahsoka's face. “Yes?” she said hopefully.
“Seven again!” chirped Barriss.
Ahsoka glared at the stone anooba.
“If you're bored, Ahsoka,” Luminara offered in a voice rich with kindhearted sympathy that made her student instantly suspicious, “this activity isn't challenging enough. A more physical distraction, perhaps?”
“I just—don't think I can stay up like this much longer, Master,” she bit out, windmilling with one arm and almost flinging one of the delicate glass decorations into orbit.
Barriss offered cheerfully, “Not with that attitude!” Easy for her to say. She was winning Upside-Down Trivia by a landslide. Ahsoka just wasn't good at history, okay?
“Indeed.”Ahsoka felt the Force swell gently as Luminara jumped down from the tree. “One moment, padawans. Don't move.”
“Not a problem,” Ahsoka muttered.
Beside her, Barriss sighed, bright eyes narrowing as she guided one of the fountains around a tree. She glanced sideways at Ahsoka.
“Well, now you've done it,” she said.
“Please,” said Ahsoka, craning her neck to see what Luminara was up to. They'd attracted a small crowd of onlookers, eager to watch Jedi training but keeping a respectful distance. Luminara had approached this crowd and seemed to be speaking politely with a group of parents. “What's she gonna do? Walk up to the picnickers and go...” She cleared her throat and said, in a very bad imitation of Luminara's gentle accent, “'I should hate to interrupt, but would any of you be so kind as to assist me in throwing rocks at children?'”
Barriss grinned at first. Then, as Luminara began to walk back towards them trailing a group of young visitors weighing collections of nuts in their hands, her face fell. “Oh, no.”
Ahsoka narrowed her eyes at the nearest child, giving them the kind of cold death-glare that struck fear into the hearts of battle droids and hardened warriors across the galaxy.
The little Twi'lek grinned and raised a particularly large nut above their head.
“On the count of three,” Luminara instructed them after they had been lined up acceptably, hands folded behind her back like this was an Academy class. “You may begin.”
Ahsoka's glare intensified. She shook her head slightly in warning. The children giggled.
“One,” Luminara said placidly.
Ahsoka bared sharp teeth at the Twi'lek. “Don't you dare, you little—”
Barriss lasted approximately half a second longer than Ahsoka, before both of them collapsed in a heap of cursing, falling garden ornaments, and a hail of assorted nuts.
All things considered, Luminara thought the day had gone very well.
The padawans were exhausted but content. The hanging-gardens complex had a small water attraction attached; it was aimed at children but meant they had access to showers, which had improved both of their moods by leaps and bounds. Luminara had also known them both well enough to bring them spare clothes, realizing they wouldn't think of it—they were intelligent, but young, and the policy of always bringing something on training runs to change into was one sorely learned in her own days as an apprentice. Combined, it meant that they had both gone from spitting fire to all but melting into the back seat.
At the very least she'd managed to get Barriss out of the Temple.
In truth, she credited Ahsoka's presence entirely for the way her apprentice's interest and sense of humor had gradually made an appearance over the course of the day. They were good for each other. And she could hope that they had benefited from the exercise; Barriss was a prodigy in many ways, but when forced into a one-on-one duel against a physically stronger opponent in close quarters she lost ground quickly. Luminara was duly proud of her apprentice's performance, but privately wondered if Barriss realized both of her wins had been considerably closer than she suspected Ahsoka was aware of.
Ahsoka, for her part, would certainly benefit from Barriss' steadiness and precision. Her technique had improved immensely in just a few short sparring sessions; with luck she would keep that up in practice.
They would forgive her for the nut-pelting eventually.
She glanced in the speeder's rearview mirror. “Ahsoka, I was impressed with your endurance today. Your form has improved since I last saw you; I hope your master is proud.”
Ahsoka, leaning back in her seat with her feet resting on the center console, grinned tiredly. “Thanks, Master Luminara.”
“I enjoyed sparring with you,” Barriss offered shyly. “We should do it more often, while we're both at the Temple. I feel as if I haven't seen you in years. We have a lot to talk about.”
“Yeah.” Ahsoka turned to face her, resting one elbow on the back of the seat. “Yeah, we should. That one twisting jump thing—I'd really love to learn that. And.” She rubbed the back of her neck with a shy smile. “I missed you.”
Attachment, padawan, Luminara thought sadly. She didn't say it; unlike Barriss and Ahsoka, she hadn't come of age during a war. Friendships of the new generation were stronger by necessity; connections needed to be enjoyed fully while they lasted for the ever-looming knowledge that every time a friend left the Temple they might never return. What she wouldn't give for her apprentice to grow up free of that lurking fear.
Still; she seemed happy enough now, whispering back and forth with Ahsoka as they leaned in over the center seat. Her hands were folded in her lap while Ahsoka gestured, but every so often she would roll her eyes and swat lightly at her friend's arm.
“Absolutely not,” Barriss was saying, mock-stern. “If it's so important to you, you ask.”
“She's your master!”
“It's your question!”
Luminara cleared her throat. “Is everything all right back there, Barriss?”
“Fine, Master,” Barriss insisted with a slight bow. “We were just... discussing.”
Luminara raised an eyebrow. “So I see.”
Unable to stand it any longer, Ahsoka took her feet off the center console and leaned forward. “Master Unduli,” she opened. “I have to ask. Why—”
“We were wondering,” Barriss cut in, apparently sensing disaster. “Surely all of this could have been done closer to the Temple.”
“Without getting up in the middle of the night,” said Ahsoka pointedly.
Luminara's lips twitched. “As I said, Ahsoka. Consider it an exercise in adaptability and patience.”
Ahsoka leveled the most skeptical look she had ever seen at the rearview mirror.
“You were messing with us,” she translated flatly.
Luminara didn't laugh, solely to spare the flustered Barriss' feelings. “Was I?”
Ahsoka pretended to think about it. “Yeah,” she decided. “You were definitely messing with us.” Barriss hid her face in her hands.
“Master?” she asked faithfully.
Luminara shook her head fondly. “Be at ease, padawan.” And then, because she did feel she owed Barriss some form of reparation for her rude awakening, “I'll take you to dinner.”
Ahsoka collapsed into her seat with a low moan of relief. “I thought I'd never be able to sit down again,” she sighed happily.
Barriss raised an eyebrow. “You were sitting down the entire ride home,” she pointed out.
“We were moving,” said Ahsoka. “Doesn't count. Thanks,” she added politely as a Pantoran waiter handed them their menus. Barriss shook her head and smiled, nodding her thanks as well. “What is this place?” Ahsoka continued as the waiter left. “I didn't even know it existed.”
“Neither did I,” Barriss admitted. “I've never been here before. But then I suppose no one could possibly know every restaurant on Coruscant. And an interspecies curry house sounds... interesting, to say the least.” She glanced through her menu and frowned. “I hope they have vegetarian options.”
“I hope they have non-vegetarian options,” Ahsoka muttered, running a finger along the ingredients below a promising-looking picture. “Seriously, is it so hard to remember not everyone is an omnivore?”
Barriss patted her hand.
“I mean, I can eat noodles,” she said to herself. “But I can't eat very many or I'll regret it. Or I guess I can pick the vegetables out, but that just seems like such a waste. Or—”
“Oh, look,” said Barriss. “They have Togruta dishes. Page four,” she added helpful. “Under the Toydarian ones.”
“...Oh. Huh.” They all looked good, too. “Thanks!”
“Any time.” Barriss was flipping back and forth between the pages of dishes that interested her; as it turned out, this place did have vegetarian options that were helpfully denoted with a picture of a leaf. They were just scattered among the contributions of different cultures. “I wish I knew how Master Luminara finds these places. I've never been to the same one twice.”
Having found something that sounded decent, Ahsoka set her menu aside and rested her head in her hands. “You guys do this often?”
Barriss blushed, for some reason, touching the edge of her hood self-consciously. “Hardly. But Master Luminara says she gets tired of Jedi cooking. Sometimes she'll take me to a restaurant like this as a treat, but it's very rare. I don't think we've done it at all in almost two years.”
Ahsoka sat a little straighter, sensing the importance of the confession. “Well,” she said, softening her voice slightly and reaching over to squeeze Barriss' hand. “Thanks for bringing me with you this time.”
“Of course.” Barriss still looked flushed, but the smile tugging at her lips said she was pleased with Ahsoka's reaction. “It's nice. My master's ground rule is that if she takes me to dinner I'm not allowed to talk about training, so... how, um.” There was a brief pause as she tried to think of a question that didn't relate to their activities within the Order, and rested her forehead in one hand with a sheepish laugh as she realized she couldn't think of any. “Oh, dear.”
Ahsoka grinned, taking her hand back and resting her elbows on the table as she leaned in conspiratorially. “You won't believe what Rex told me the other day about some of the things the 501st have been getting into behind our backs,” she said, and Barriss shook her head.
“Oh, no.” She hesitated, then gave in. “Like what?”
“Hoo, boy. I hope you're comfortable. So first of all, someone got the brilliant idea to do a fundraiser to raise money for equipment upgrades...”
"...and anyway, that's the Naked Clone Calendar story. I think Rex still has nightmares.”
Luminara smiled to herself as Barriss, who was blushing a worrying shade of emerald, nevertheless tried to stifle only slightly horrified laughter.
“And you still don't know how the 212th got involved?"
“No idea. If Cody ever finds out he'll probably strangle them.”
Luminara tuned them out again. She'd politely waved off both the staff and her padawan when asked if she would be joining them; she would eat back at the Temple. Barriss was difficult to draw out of her shell even at the best of times; she was reasonably certain that in a formal setting like this, her presence as well as Ahsoka's would likely make her padawan retreat even further into convention.
Let her relax, for once. She would need that in the months to come. Memories of peace and friendship, when the fires began to burn in earnest.
Besides. She closed her eyes and sighed into the wind, leaning against the railing. It was a beautiful evening, and for a Coruscant restaurant that didn't cost a small planet to enjoy the balcony was remarkably quiet and sheltered. And this curry house was among her favorites. She'd been saving it for a rainy day. It appeared to be a success, if the way Barriss was gesturing slightly with her fork while eagerly telling Ahsoka some story from the Hall of Healing was any indication.
“...and when he realized his comlink was out of reach, instead of calling it with the Force like a normal person he pulled out his lightsaber—"
"He cut the entire pipe out of the wall.”
“And that's how he showed up?”
Barriss shook her head in despair. “Soaking wet with a toilet attached to his head.”
“You have the weirdest job.”
Barriss shrugged modestly. “I enjoy it,” she murmured.
In truth, Luminara didn't so much hear her this time as see her lips move; but she knew what Barriss would say, if she felt safe enough. And—yes. Yes, there it was. She could tell from Ahsoka's face alone. She'd heard this quiet, tentative little speech before from her apprentice. If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear it now.
Barriss' voice was soft, gentle when she spoke of healing. She fostered life as something fragile and tender and sacred. It makes me feel right, she would say. What are Jedi if not healers? Protecting life is what we're meant to do. Or... bringing peace, if we have to. Ending suffering however possible. She would fold her hands in her lap, smile faintly at her own delicate fingers. If the Force chooses us, she would say, then this must be why I was chosen. To care for people and bring them peace, and healing if I can. Otherwise why would I have this gift? If it chose me, I must be meant to use it.
Ahsoka grinned watching her; an unspeakably tender version of her usual smirk. Luminara could all but follow Barriss' quiet speech in Ahsoka's eyes alone. They tightened ever so slightly with sympathy—that would be Barriss simply and solemnly acknowledging that even the greatest Healer would have patients they could not save.
She laughed softly to herself as she noticed the young Togruta's fork wandering; maybe she'd run them a little too ragged. As hungry as she might have been, however, Ahsoka's priorities were made very clear. She stabbed vaguely at her curry, tapping along the table having apparently lost track of her bowl entirely, but her eyes never once wandered from Barriss' face. Or lost their faintly adoring sheen.
Finally, Barriss seemed to notice the reverence in her friend's gaze, and faltered to a stop.
“...What?” she asked shyly. “What is it?”
Ahsoka hummed. “Nothing.”
Motion a level below them drew Luminara's eye as the light speeder she'd been waiting for swung out of the skylane and idled near the restauarant's entrance. She caught the driver's eye, nodded, and pushed away from the edge of the balcony.
“Barriss,” she said, interrupting what appeared to have been a charged moment between the padawans—though not an unpleasant one by any means. Luminara placed a hand lightly on her shoulder and set their speeder keys on the table. “I should be going. Take your time,” she admonished as her apprentice appeared to be about to stand. “Enjoy the evening, padawan. And do try not to keep Ahsoka out too late,” she added with a teasing glance at the girl in question.
Barriss, unaccountably, looked embarrassed. “Yes, Master.”
“I'll see you in the morning,” Luminara assured her, brushing a gentle hand over the back of her hood. She could just hear Ahsoka tentatively asking Barriss something about her meal as she nodded to the hosts on her way downstairs.
“I mean, I like it,” Ahsoka said quickly. “Don't get me wrong, it's great, just.” Barriss tried not to laugh as her friend gulped what had to be her third large glass of water. “Wow. That's, um. That's. Ow? I think it got in my nose.”
It was oddly charming. Barriss nudged some of her curry onto her fork and smiled across the table.
“Too hot for you?” she asked, surprised. “I thought Shili was mostly desert.”
Ahsoka shook her head, coughed violently, took another large gulp of water, and started again. “Not really,” she said. “It's mostly scrubland and some forests. And I've been at the Temple since I was little.”
“Of course,” Barriss agreed. “I apologize. I'm not terribly familiar with Mirialan cuisine either, I shouldn't have assumed.”
Ahsoka waved her off. “It's fine. I mean, we season our food, I'm just not used to, uh. That much. A lot of it we eat raw, actually, but I mostly have Jedi stuff, you know?” Temple fare was actually incredibly varied—it had to be, with Jedi from so many different worlds and species. But that same variety meant that specialized dishes were a thing of dreams; they had to feed thousands of different people with different dietary needs. It was filling and good, but favored simplicity. This was honestly more intense than almost anything Ahsoka had ever tasted, and at Barriss' slightly panicked insistence she'd gotten the mildest form.
Ahsoka peered at her mostly-empty bowl, suddenly curious. “What are you having, anyway?”
“I'm not actually sure,” Barriss admitted. “It was in the Miscellaneous section. I believe it's an Outer Rim dish of some sort.”
“Not the Mandalorian one?”
Barriss shook her head. “I decided against it, I've generally found Mandalorian dishes too dense. I prefer lighter but more aromatic.”
“You really know your stuff, huh?” Ahsoka sounded suitably impressed.
Barriss laughed slightly. “Do me a favor,” she teased. “Don't tell everyone I'm a spice expert. It tends to give the wrong impression.”
Ahsoka threw her a mocking salute. “Yes, ma'am.” She still look intrigued. “Can I try some? I mean, you're eating it, right? I should be able to handle it.”
“Of course.” Barriss nudged her bowl closer. “I thought you were carnivorous?”
Ahsoka winced and patted her belly. “After these kinds of spices,” she said flatly, “One bite of green stuff is the least of my worries.”
Barriss smiled indulgently as her friend nudged bits of her curry around with her fork. “You're probably right,” she admitted. Finally, Ahsoka stabbed into something that apparently caught her interest. “But I'm glad you enjoyed yourself all the same. It was more enjoyable than I expected, training alongside...”
Suddenly, just as Ahsoka's teeth were closing over it, Barriss realized what was on her fork.
“Ahsoka,” she yelped. “Don't eat—”
Ahsoka didn't scream, precisely, but that was probably due to the fact that her entire body seemed to have seized up and Barriss suspected she was physically incapable of opening her mouth. The sound she was making sounded worryingly like an over-pressurized gas canister moments from exploding, except a lot louder and with considerably more crying.
She groped blindly for her glass of water, and Barriss snatched it away. If possible the muted internal shriek intensified, and through her streaming eyes Ahsoka managed to convey a moment of sheer terror and utter betrayal before Barriss had replaced it with her small dish of shredded manak leaves and a napkin.
“Water makes it worse,” she explained quickly. “Spit it out and chew these.”
Nodding wildly, Ahsoka obeyed her like her life depended on it.
“What,” she gasped several minutes later. “Was that?”
Barriss gave her water back with a pained expression.
“Felucian acideye pepper,” she said apologetically. So named because the explorers who first discovered it reported fearing their eyes had melted from the inside upon biting into one. “I'm so sorry. I enjoy them for the sharpness but they're... an acquired taste. Are you all right?”
Ahsoka made a high-pitched wheezing noise, but gave her a shaky thumbs-up.
“Would...” Barriss offered weakly. “Would you like dessert?”
“I don't think I'll be able to taste anything for a week,” said Ahsoka. “But you go ahead.”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow as Luminara vaulted lightly into the speeder.
“Very subtle, Master Unduli,” he said drily, nodding toward the padawans where they were tucked in a private corner on the balcony. Barriss was resting her head in one hand with a fond smile, watching as Ahsoka picked through her food.
Luminara shook her head. “Poor Barriss,” she said warmly. “I wonder if she's even realized.”
“There are days I think Ahsoka hasn't realized,” Obi-Wan said, a note of exasperation in his voice. “And if she's ever taken her eyes off that girl, I'm sure I wasn't there to see it. I'm certain we were never so clueless.”
“Well,” Luminara said softly. “We grew up under very different circumstances.”
Obi-Wan sighed. “You have a point there. I only hope they'll have peace soon. This war can't go on much longer. We can't afford it to.”
For a few minutes, they simply enjoyed the evening and the quiet. Silence was different in the city. The silence of the Temple was silent, an absolute absence of sound and distraction unless a horde of younglings happened to come across you. Nothing was ever still on the rest of Coruscant; but the constant drone of life and movement in the background was soothing in itself. If the Temple brought a Jedi into themselves, Coruscant evenings brought them back into the real world.
“Well,” Luminara sighed finally. “They have peace tonight, at least. It may be all we can give them.”
It looked for a moment as if Obi-Wan wanted to respond to that; eventually, he just squeezed her shoulder and put the speeder in gear.
The sun began to set in earnest, and the galaxy spun on.