This is quite short, but I think quite sweet. Written under the influence of a truly nasty flu whilst on vacation in Cornwall.
The lofty arches of the Archives were shrouded in shadow, darkly silent for almost all of the ten kilometres of shelving. The wisdom of millennia lay closed on the shelves, on tables, locked into powered-down computer terminals. Shining palely through the high windows, the moonlight flung patterns of silver onto the tiled floor. Only two people were in the vast room. One, a sleepy-looking Human Padawan, was operating nearly on autopilot, his shoulder-length black hair tumbling out of the elastic band holding it back and drifting into his half-closed green eyes. Brushing the strands crossly aside, he typed a few more words into a file, and then glanced up at the other person in the long hall.
This was a Master, so deeply absorbed in his reading as to be, unusually for a Jedi, completely oblivious to his surroundings. For hours, he had been at the same desk, moving only to turn a page in the old-fashioned hard-copy file, and writing screeds of notes. His tousled reddish-fair hair gleamed in the light of the reading lamp, and his face wore a scowl of deep concentration.
Finally the Padawan spoke, failing to hide an almost unutterable weariness. “Master Kenobi, are you almost done with that file?”
“Just a minute,” replied Obi-Wan absently, not looking up.
The Padawan pursed his lips in disapproval. He unstrapped the chrono from his wrist, and, limping swiftly across the aisle of shelves, slid the timepiece over the pages of the file and into the Master’s field of vision.
The effect was electric. Leaping up and rapidly gathering his papers, Obi-Wan remonstrated, “It’s after midnight! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried to,” replied the filemaster’s assistant coldly. “I tried when it was only nine and the Archives were meant to close, and at nine-thirty when Madame Nu gave up and went to bed, and at eleven when your Padawan called and left a message on your comlink, which you had left, as per regulations, at the desk. And once more just now.”
Obi-Wan groaned and palmed his forehead in the ‘duh’ gesture more commonly used by Padawans. “I knew I’d forgotten something. Tai Vordrax: I promised Nasriel I’d go over some of the safeguards with her tonight.”
Unfeelingly cheerful, the boy retorted, “It’s not tonight. It’s tomorrow morning.” He glanced at a scribbled note on the back of his hand. “Oh, and I’m to tell you there’s a letter for you, been delivered to your quarters. The mail room couldn’t decipher the address, so they sent it to Archives – don’t know why.”
“Thank you. Now I’d probably better leave.”
A few minutes later, to his own wry amusement, Obi-Wan caught himself actually creeping along the corridor. He was also aware of an illogical hope that Nasriel would have done something out of character and not waited up for him.
Unfortunately, Nasriel was entirely in character, sitting at the table in the main room, balancing a complex chemical equation and drinking strong black caf. She set down her ink-pencil as he entered. “Good morning, Master.”
“All right, don’t rub it in,” muttered Obi-Wan. “I forgot. I had mountains of research to catch up on: Vokara wouldn’t let me near the library for weeks after that Blue Shadow fiasco.”
Nasriel smiled. “It’s okay. I’d pull an all-nighter at the lab if I thought you wouldn’t notice. Did Kijé send you home?”
“Tall Padawan? Black hair, needs cutting? With a limp? Master Nu’s assistant? Yes, eventually. He said there was a letter here for me.”
“A letter?” Nasriel stalled evasively. “Oh, there was a note that got misdirected, that’s all.”
“Where is it?”
“It wasn’t for you anyway,” she added hastily.
“Don’t play games with me at this hour, Nasriel. I’m too tired.”
“And whose fault is that?” came the snapped retort.
“Just… give me the letter.”
Nasriel sulkily extracted a sealed envelope from between the pages of her notebook and slapped it into his outstretched hand. “There. Happy?”
“Ecstatic.” Flipping the envelope over to read the address, he said mildly, “It is for me. ‘To the Master of Nasriel Threeb’.”
“But it’s from Jiron,” wailed Nasriel in exasperation. “And he didn’t know you’d be reading it! He… did not have a very good opinion of you.”
“Oh.” With great difficulty, Obi-Wan managed to hide a smile. For some reason he had yet to fathom, chiefly because he himself did not care, Nasriel minded very much what other people had to say about him. And the fact that her beloved Jiron would more than likely have some choice comments to make only exacerbated the situation.
Obi-Wan pulled up a chair and sat beside her. “Read it together?”
Nasriel’s smile was almost pathetically grateful. It unnerved him more than somewhat to know how very much influence he had over this girl. But, if he could use it well… Shrugging off the disquieting thought, he quickly broke the wax seal of the envelope and withdrew a sheet of pale grey flimsi. Jiron Jados had not stopped to date the page, but had begun his letter abruptly. Obi-Wan read it quietly aloud, aware of Nasriel’s intense concentration as she followed along the level lines of Jiron’s rounded, unformed handwriting.
“‘Dear Whoever-You-Are: I am dead and you have inherited my Padawan, that’s why you’re reading this. I wish I hadn’t to write it. But the pair of us, Nasriel and I, have been sent after Grievous. We’re to find out his plans, apparently. Master Windu says it’s because I’ve always specialized in espionage and Nasriel needs to learn. The real reason is that he won’t risk losing his precious Chosen One and the brat’s keeper on a hare-brained stunt like this. Nas and I are expendable. I’ve tried to drill that one idea at least into her head, so you won’t have much problem with her shrinking away from the rough missions. However, I feel that this mission will fail, probably spectacularly. She doesn’t know that yet; I’d rather not frighten her more than I must. Look after the kid, will you? Her training’s been truly haphazard, but you can blame me for that, if you please, and not take it out on her. She knows a lot she shouldn’t and precious little she should, and her fighting style’s a bit Form 8, but not, I think, totally irreparable.’ Form 8?”
“Haywire,” sighed Nasriel. “I regret to say he’s right.”
“You’ll learn. ‘I wish I could stick around longer, because I think Nasriel will turn out all right after all, if taken firmly in hand. One other thing: if you see that bearded brainless blackguardly bastard of a Kenobi, tell him from me that if we all kept our promises like he has his, the Order would have crumbled to dust centuries ago. Ave. Morturi te salutant. Hug Nasriel for me and tell her I love her – if she asks for a qualifier, then “more than he loves Satine” will do. Jiron V. Jados.’ That’s all.”
Obi-Wan could laugh off Jados’ childish epithets, with their faint tang of the ludicrous names called in the Padawan Halls, but… Satine. While all his memories of her were so precious, the careless jibe of a dead young Knight hit him unexpectedly, knocking him down winded, like a punch in the stomach. Finally, he had been thrown the one insult he could not ignore. Oh, Satine! What Jados suggested was impossible. Nobody could love more than he loved her – any heart would break with the sheer glorious weight of it. He did not merely loved Satine, he lived for her, worshiped her… renounced her because it was his duty. And now some young upstart was trampling on that sacred memory. A memory was all it could be – Jedi did not fall into romance. Pulling himself back to reality with a start, Obi-Wan saw that Nasriel looked almost shellshocked, perfectly still, staring catatonically at the words on the page without seeing them. Well, let her, he thought rebelliously. Why should I clean up the mess this insufferable boy has made of her life?
For an instant, shockingly, wonderfully, he heard Qui-Gon’s voice in his mind. And when Tahl died and Garen joked about it? When Tahl died, Obi-Wan belatedly remembered, Qui-Gon had disregarded the irreverent Muln’s jest, although it must have wounded him deeply, set aside his own overwhelming grief until a more suitable time to face it, and turned to comfort his Padawan. Obi-Wan had always tried to live up to his Master’s example, and so it was in very nearly his normal tone that he made Nasriel the same quiet offer Qui-Gon had made him all those years ago: “If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.”
“He knew,” whispered Nasriel, aghast. “He knew he was going to die. And he didn’t -” Unable to go on, she bit her lip in a vain attempt to stop the tears. When she was slightly under control, she announced grandly, “I’m going to bed. S-some of us have work to do later this morning.” The effect was somewhat spoiled a moment later, when she started crying in earnest and accidentally knocked over the only half-empty caf mug. Automatically righting the mug, Obi-Wan studied the Padawan concernedly and wondered what to do next. Surely Anakin had never cried like this? Some days the Force could be almost human, and tonight Obi-Wan had a sneaking suspicion that it had been watching him and snickering before whispering the answer.
Obi-Wan gathered Nasriel into his lap and hugged her close. The sobs racked her light body so violently he was half-afraid she would break. Although her face was muffled in the rough fabric of his tunic, occasional phrases were intelligible through the sobs. “He’s not dead… he’s not! He can’t be… I still need him… Oh, Jiron!”
Finally the storm passed. When her crying had reached the hiccupy stage, Nasriel said miserably, “I’m sorry, Master. It just… it felt like he was dying all over again.” Obi-Wan did not reply. He didn’t need to. She knew he understood.
Wiping the tears from Nasriel’s face with a few brusquely efficient swipes of his sleeve cuff, Obi-Wan said crisply, now almost ashamed of his display of affection, “That wasn’t me, because you know I’d never do anything of the sort. That was the hug Jiron told me to give you.”
“That was you,” nodded Nasriel confidently. “I know: you’re kind too.”
Obi-Wan stood up abruptly and carried Nasriel back to her room, as he vaguely remembered carrying Anakin, back when the boy was very young and very reluctant to go to sleep. Dropping Nasriel unceremoniously onto her bed, Obi-Wan pulled the heavy wool blanket up over her. “Go to sleep,” he ordered sternly.
“Yes, Master.” Nasriel’s right hand fluttered up to her temple in a drowsy salute and dropped back onto the blanket. Checking carefully that Ben was safely asleep, Obi-Wan furtively kissed Nasriel on the forehead, before closing her door and going to clean up half a spilled cup of caf.