"Alone in the dark a padawan should not be."
Obi-Wan jumped, startled, even as he recognized the speaker. "M-Master Yoda," he stammered, quickly rising to bow in deference to the ancient Jedi.
Yoda chuckled. "Sit, young one," he instructed, waving his hand in the general direction of the bench the padawan had been seated upon. "Sneak up on you I did. So formal you need not be."
Obi-Wan smiled a little, despite his melancholy mood. "I guess not," he replied as he sat back down. He'd always liked Master Yoda, and even now he could feel warm affection for the ancient Jedi seep through.
Master Yoda tapped him with his gimer stick. "More room I need," he instructed as he struggled up onto the bench.
Obi-Wan obliged and then resumed staring out into the relative darkness of the meditation garden as if he were still alone.
They sat in the evening silence for several long moments.
"Better you are?" Yoda finally asked gently.
Obi-Wan sighed and straightened a little. "The healers said I'll be fine. No strenuous exercises for a while, but the injuries are healing well. Master Qui-Gon is working with the healers to come up with a training schedule for me. They don't seem to think I'll fall too far behind."
Master Yoda shook his head. "Asked that, I did not."
Obi-Wan didn't reply. He felt awkward discussing this with Master Yoda. He'd already given his report to the Council as soon as he'd been able. What more could the Jedi master wish to know?
Master Yoda leaned forward and traced patterns in the dirt with his gimer stick. "Miss your braid, you do?"
Obi-Wan started. How had he known that? It was such a silly thing; a thought so unbefitting a 15 year-old padawan that Obi-Wan had kept it tightly shielded, even from Qui-Gon.
"I..." Obi-Wan stammered a little. He couldn't lie. "Yes, Master Yoda," he replied quietly. "I know it's stupid, " he sighed, "I know I should be happy that I'm healing well and that I can return to training so soon." He paused for a long moment and then continued haltingly. "It's just that... when they cut my braid... it... I felt like they cut my ties to my master, I guess. Like they'd taken something I never thought I could lose."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a moment, remembering. He'd despaired when the dampening collar the slavers had fitted him with cut him off from the Force, but when his braid had been cut... He squeezed his eyes shut tighter as if to banish the memory.
"Always with you, your master is," Yoda replied confidently. "As padawan grows in the ways of the Force, so grows again his braid."
Obi-Wan sighed a little. "Yes, Master Yoda."
It was just that it had taken him so long to actually become a padawan. He had been through so much with Qui-Gon before he'd even been allowed to wear the braid. It hurt to lose that symbol of their hard-won bond. He knew his hair would grow again. But it would not be part of him that had been there through his struggle to become padawan to the great Qui-Gon Jinn. He didn't expect anyone to understand. Not even Qui-Gon. It was why he had kept the feeling shielded tightly inside himself.
But leave it to Master Yoda to see right through him.
Master Yoda tapped Obi-Wan's leg with the gimer stick again. "Qui-Gon's padawan you are," he stated evenly. "Changed that has not."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I know."
"Lucky we were to get you back. Risked everything, he did."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes in acceptance. "I know that also, Master Yoda," he replied. His inner mind was plagued by memories. He had given in to his fear during his captivity, even if it had only been briefly. There was a small part of him left from his Agri-Corp days that still doubted his self-worth. That part of himself had been afraid Qui-Gon would not come for him.
Master Yoda made a small sound that Obi-Wan knew from long experience meant the ancient Jedi had seen through him yet again. "Qui-Gon did not want another padawan, that much is true," Yoda confirmed. "But when the Force brought you into his life, even one as stubborn as he could not refuse. Good for him, you have been, and he for you. Grow in the Force together, you have."
This time Master Yoda reached the gimer stick up higher so he could poke Obi-Wan in the ribs with it. "Grow more you will," he observed as the boy flinched away, "but not if hiding from the light. Good for growth, darkness is not."
Obi-Wan managed a smile. Somehow talking to the little master was always helpful, even when he didn't consciously want any help. "Yes, Master Yoda," he replied, letting the smile widen a little.
Master Yoda's expression was warm and kind, and his eyes slid half-closed as if he were listening to something. "Always knows when I'm talking about him, your master does," he muttered as he scooted down off the bench.
Just then, Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon's presence before he saw him coming down the darkened garden path.
"There you are, Padawan," Qui-Gon greeted as he approached, looking somewhat relieved. He turned and bowed slightly to Yoda. "Good evening, Master Yoda," he greeted politely.
The elder Jedi nodded in acknowledgement and then squinted up at him. "Cut your hair you should," he observed with a sad shake of his head. "Look like a shaggy bantha you do." With that, he abruptly began to make his way down the path leading back into the Temple.
Qui-Gon stared after him for a moment, then turned back to his padawan who was trying desperately to hide his amused smile. Any annoyance Qui-Gon had felt immediately faded away as he caught sight of that expression. It was the first he'd seen his padawan smile since he'd rescued Obi-Wan from that Sith-spawned slaver's ring several days ago.
"What have you two been talking about?" Qui-Gon wondered as he offered a hand to assist Obi-Wan up off the bench.
Obi-Wan accepted the help but still wobbled a little when he got to his feet. The Jedi Knight put a supportive hand on his somewhat shaky padawan's shoulder and began to slowly lead him back toward their quarters. They walked in silence for a few moments, but Qui-Gon was still curious.
"Well?" he asked.
Obi-Wan smiled again. For the first time since he'd returned to Coruscant, he was actually beginning to feel better.
"Just hair, Master," he replied as he leaned against his mentor's strong
frame and basked in that reassuring presence. "We were just talking about