Padawan

He's gone and left me alone. I don't like it, but it isn't my fault the locals have a taboo against persons under the age of 30 showing themselves in public. So here I am, stuck on the ship while my Master tends to business. At least I won't get bored.

Yeah. Right. Like I haven't read every disk on the ship's computer already.

Perhaps I should study my katas, or meditate... but I would rather lie here on my bunk and think of my Master.

My Master. One would think that name would call to mind something entirely different than the image that comes before me. Something stern and foreboding, something authoritarian and formal.

But it doesn't. I know my Master as well as I know myself. Sometimes I feel as if I might know him better, even when he's being taciturn and obscure. He doesn't even have to tell me what he means... not that he ever did explain himself to me. He simply was, and somewhere along the line I began to understand him.

He says so little sometimes that it's a wonder I ever did learn. But I did, and now I can see so much more in everything he says that I cannot now imagine ever thinking him distant.

There was a time when all I could hear in his voice was the tone of command. Every time he said "Padawan" I could only hear that there was something else I needed to do, something I had forgotten or missed in my lesson.

I used to hear that "Padawan" as a reminder of my failings, even when I knew he meant it only as a request for my attention that he might give me instruction. But it reminded me that I was merely a student, and he, my Master.

I don't know when that changed, really. When I began hearing the nuances of his voice and heard more.

There is rarely any time, now or when I first became his apprentice, when he merely means to get my attention when he says "Padawan." There is even, I learned more slowly, rarely any time he means to reproach my efforts and make me think only of what I do not yet know. In my need to please him, I missed everything else he was saying for quite some time.

Eventually, though, I began hearing it. The tone of quiet pride when he said it. When I had finished an exercise and he simply returned my bow with a nod, and a "Padawan." I learned to hear the encouragement, the "Padawan" which did not simply mean "pay attention" but "I know you can do this." When I began to hear that, I began to feel as though I could do anything my Master bid. I could not, of course. I also learned to hear the "try again, and this time, focus!" in his quiet "Padawan."

I do not know which of the two I heard more. Certainly there were times when I despaired of ever hearing the first, as I drowned in the second.

But I also learned to hear another. The "Padawan" which meant I had succeeded at something he had not expected me to accomplish. Like the time when I picked up three crates with the Force, when he was simply trying to get me to raise two.

It was a long time before I learned to hear the others. More subtle nuances, or perhaps it simply took longer for them to arise at all.

The "Padawan" which said he respected my opinion, asking for my honest input and not just asking as an exercise in my powers of reasoning.

The "Padawan" which said he was grateful for my presence, whether joining him just before the battle began or just before we entered the Council chambers.

And the "Padawan" which told me he needed me at his side. Anywhere, and everywhere. That one, I have only heard recently. But I hear it ever so clearly in his voice.

As I progressed in my studies, I began to hear more than I had anticipated when I first contemplated what it would be to be a Padawan. I heard more than I would have wanted, had the choice been mine to make.

Because I hear the pain in the "Padawan" when we have failed. When he calls me back to his side that we may go, with things left as badly or worse as we had found them.

I can also hear the "Padawan" which means he is afraid for me, wishes he could leave me someplace safe. Not that he ever could make me stay behind when I am able to join him. Since my first so-called mission with him I have followed -- or preceded -- him into danger. As is my place, as a Jedi. But I hear when he wishes it were my place to remain behind, where he knows I would not be harmed. Oddly, I hear it now more often. Though I am more skilled in the use of the Force and in my powers of observation, it is now that he wishes more to keep me safe. Or perhaps it is now that I can hear it.

There are the times when he says it as he holds me, when I am bleeding or aching or shaking too badly to stop. The "Padawan" which calls me back from whatever dark place my injuries might send me, calls to me to stay.

Conversely, when it is he who lies injured, I hear his request. The "Padawan" which tells me the mission must come first and, if there is nothing I can do for him, I must accept that.

It is matched nicely, however, with the "Padawan" when the injuries are healing. There is only relief in his voice, then, though the word sounds so much the same as ever.

I heard him say it once in such a way that I wish I shall never hear again. The level of relief in a single utterance of "Padawan" when I opened my eyes... I still do not know how close I was. I recall dreams which said I might have died, but my Master never would tell me. He only whispered "Padawan" in my ear and held me tight.

And the other. The "Padawan" when he believed -- briefly enough, I was able to explain -- that I had betrayed our mission. The shock in that "Padawan" was great, but it paled against the acceptance I heard. What he thought I had done, he would n ot blame me for. It was that which prompted me to tell him of the promise I had made, and why it made things seem the way they did.

It was the closest I ever came to hearing anger in that "Padawan." But he forgave me and I learned.

I much prefer the ones where he is laughing. Whether I intended to be humorous or not, the shaking in his voice as he says "Padawan" and tries to control himself and fails... it makes the others fade into memory.

My favourite, of course, is the one where he says 'I love you.' All he says is "Padawan" and all anyone else can hear is that he has acknowledged my presence at his side.

But that, in a way, is as much his telling me as the tone itself. No matter what has happened, no matter what either of us has done, that "Padawan" tells me I shall always be accepted at his side.

I prefer it even to the other one, though I do so enjoy it as well. The "Padawan" when we are able to be stripped of our clothes and hold on to one another. Or when we have already been, and he is asking for more. Or when I have asked for more and he i s trying to counsel patience.

Or when we want to be, and are stuck in a formal meeting somewhere and he is telling me to stop looking like that. I tell him it isn't intentional. It isn't my fault if the sight of me arouses him so easily. Even if I do sometimes take advantage of it.

I even prefer it to the one he says sometimes instead of my name, when he is about to come. Gripping me tightly, his voice strained, he shouts "Padawan" and I find a sense of peace in my soul. Perhaps that is odd, that I don't prefer he say my name at t hose times. But "Padawan" is to me, as "Master" is to him. It is who I am. As long as it is me he calls for, it does not matter what he says.

I have learned to hear so much in that word. I know him so well now that the single word is all he needs to say anything he has to tell me.

Yesterday, he called me to him and I knew what he wanted, simply from the sound of it. I heard him call "Padawan," and knew he wanted to spar a bit before we landed on this planet. Loosen up travel-tightened muscles. Perhaps it was from context that I knew, from all the times before we have done so.

But I heard it in his voice. However else I knew, I heard it in his voice.

"Padawan."

I look up and smile. He's returned to the ship. I call out, "Here, Master," though he knows where I am. I get up and go to meet him, and find him as I expected, smiling and happy to see me. He's missed having me with him, and wishes we could circumvent the traditions which require me to remain out of sight.

"Padawan," he says again as I step up to him and allow him to wrap his arms around me. I know what he wants, and I want it as well. I hug him and let my head fall against his chest.

"Yes, Master."