As requested by Iris – companion piece & sequel to Bedtime Story. Title is a deliberate pun. The only warning is that despite the deplorable state of the world, you will please bear in mind that some things, at least, are still innocent.
Many thanks to Monsieur Myriel for understanding what I meant, and to Monsieur Hugo for putting it in exactly the right words a century ahead of time.
Sarah: You will now kindly cease to hate me.
I am not roused by anything definite, but vaguely wake, and vaguely lie awake, eyes closed, taking stock of my surroundings. Under me is a firm, flat surface, which under surreptitious prodding identifies itself as softish, springy, and unmistakably cloth – in short, not the filthy stone floor, slick and stinking with blood, on which I fell asleep. In the air of this new place, a distinct smell still hangs – but something acidic, sharp and clear, that stings as I breathe it. Which reminds me to conduct a pain survey. For some reason, I had expected pain, especially in my back and throat, but there does not seem to be any. A fine residue of something faintly sticky lingers on my hands, and, on cautious exploration, on my face and hair and beard. In the distance, something beeps with an irritating persistence, in time with the pulse I can feel beating in my wrist.
In a flash, I realize, and smile at myself for taking so long over such a simple deduction. I lie supine on a bed in a medcenter. The beeping emanates from a cardiogram monitor receiving its data from the leads stuck to my bare chest. The acidic smell, the lack of pain, and the sticky stuff are all answered in one word: bacta. After noting each point, I consider that opening my eyes would be a feasible next course of action, so I do this.
And then wonder if I have really opened my eyes. I blink. I have.
But even if the room is completely dark, unlikely though that seems, the monitor must have lights. I turn in the direction of the beep. Nothing.
“Well, you’re rather useless, then,” I inform the machine acerbically. To underline the point, I proceed to unstick and toss away the cardiogram electrodes, but the only reply is a steady, indignant asystolic tone.
The air in the room changes subtly, a saline sweetness mixing with the tangy scent of bacta. I sniff to identify it.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi! Have you any idea what a fright you’ve just given my apprentice?”
I can still hear perfectly well, and there is no apprentice in this room, for only two people are breathing: myself and the healer, Bant Eerin.
“In the next room, watching your Padawan and your ECG trace. Perhaps,” Bant’s gravelly voice concedes gracefully, somewhere off to my right, “I should have told the boy that a flatline on you only means awake and annoyed.”
Disregarding the worries of the medcenter apprentice, I seize on the first sentence.
“Nasriel’s here? Is she all right? Bant, I’m fine. Please. Can I see her?”
“Yes, no she isn’t, no you aren’t, and I was just about to ask you the same question.”
My long-ago grammar lessons slip back to me. “Oh. No, I can’t see. May I go to her, then?” While asking an old childhood friend for permission to go and talk to my own Padawan is somewhat irksome, I have the sense to recognize when I do not have a choice. Though I really am quite all right, and shouldn’t have to stay in the medcenter at all.
“Shirt,” I demand next, and out of the darkness of the room a bundle of cloth comes flying at me. I do not thank Bant until my searching fingers, which will have to serve as my eyes for now, have assured me that the cloth is a tunic, and have found the darned collar identifying it as my tunic. Fortunately Jedi clothes do not lend themselves to accidental reversal: I am absolutely certain it is both the right way around and the right way out. The floor is cold under my feet as I tentatively stand up.
“Come on, then.” Bant takes my hand in her webbed paw, and though to be led about like a youngling is not dignified, and though I really am fine, I am not as strong as I thought, and find myself grateful for the Mon Cal healer’s support as we walk the few steps to the doorway. The next room is warm, about the temperature of my quarters when Anakin had control of the thermostat, and the stillness of the air and lack of echo tell me it is a small room. The only sounds are the over-slow beep of another cardiogram monitor, the regular click of some machine or other, and a child’s quiet, shallow breaths, at long intervals. With swift efficiency, Bant dismisses her apprentice, fetches a chair, and orders me to sit down before I fall down.
Groping warily in front of me, I find the edge of Nasriel’s bed, and then her hand.
It is as cold as death.
And yes, I am familiar with the temperature of death. I rub Nasriel’s fingers gently, try to warm them. The family crest tattooed on the back of her hand is slightly raised, and I absently trace its outline. Moving my hand up her arm, I flinch as I encounter the IV line stabbed into the soft skin at the bend of her elbow; my alarm must show on my face, for Bant breaks her silence.
“It’s for fluids. She’s badly dehydrated. She needs rest, mostly.”
I nod, just to show I’ve heard. “May I stay here for a while?”
“Of course.” Bant touches my shoulder lightly, and I hear her footsteps padding away.
For hours, I suppose, I sit, holding my Padawan’s cold hand, listening to the slow rhythm of her breathing. And talking quietly. I tell her I will never again take her word for anything relating to Saalisan – or half-breed – physiology. I tell her that next time I order her to run, I shall expect her to do it, and I tell her that I am grateful she didn’t run last time I ordered her to. I tell her she is brave, and I am proud of her, and foolish and obstinate, and Qui-Gon would have been proud of her. I tell Nasriel that I think she and Qui-Gon as a team – as had originally been planned – would have run the Council ragged. But that it would be worth it for the fun of watching. And more than worth it to have Qui-Gon back. I tell her the difficult words, the ones I would never say if I thought she could hear me: “I love you, Padawan.”
Nasriel’s fingers contract millimetrically, and press mine. She’s awake.
“What’s the time, Master?” The words come out slurred, slow, as if each is heavy as a stone.
“I don’t know,” I confess. “How are you?”
“Tired. C-cold.” She is shivering, teeth chattering in the desert-like heat of the room. “W-what about you?”
“Blind.” For some reason, the fact doesn’t bother me. Others have survived blindness, and worse; I will too. Of course it is frustrating, but… there are no mistakes.
“Oh.” In another tone, one of disgust, she exclaims, “Oh, Force! What is this thing?”
“Nasriel…” Meaning, Nasriel, I can’t see what you’re talking about. You will have to be more specific than this thing.
“The IV line. What’s in it? Can I get rid of it?” I am about to take the soft option and tell her to ask a healer, but the tensing of her wrist tells me she is already plucking impatiently at the catheter. Firmly, I place my hand over hers, and change the subject.
“You’ll have to get better soon so we can both go home; I don’t think Bant will let me, not alone.”
“I love you too, Master.” Turning my hand over, she traces two dots and a curve in my palm: a smile. A joke.
“I think,” I say stiffly, “you must have been dreaming. A Jedi shall not know anger, nor hatred, nor love. I’m not sure what you thought I said, but I can assure you I didn’t.” Question: which is worse, telling half a lie, or informing my Padawan in so many words that I, a member of the Council, deliberately ignore a major precept of the Code? That I think the precept is poorly worded and often misinterpreted is irrelevant.
“Perhaps.” Answer: the lie is worse. I can hear Nasriel’s downcast expression in her voice, and she withdraws her hands, so that now only her mournful voice comes to me. “Anakin’s all right,” she adds, a heartbreakingly hopeful peace offering. I accept – though it is I who should apologize.
“I was worried for you,” the whisper goes on, with a hint of desperation. “In the… the prison. Anakin was freaking out on the way home. I… we do love you. It’s true.” She’s twisting her hands together, clicking her nails on each other. “I know: no attachments. Attachment leads to fear of loss. But it’s true. I’m sorry if that disappoints you,” she says, as stiff as I was a moment ago.
“A Padawan rebelling against the Code? In the name of – why would that disappoint me?” I’m being cruel. I know it, and I don’t like it one bit, but I can’t seem to stop. Only one thing for it. “Nasriel, tell me to shut up.”
Annoyed, or puzzled, or both, she replies instantly. “Stop it, Master, what are you doing?”
“That’ll do. Thank you.”
“The sun’s setting,” she informs me diffidently. Which means this will be the first sunset I’ve consciously missed in the Temple since I was… five years old. “I could tell you what it looks like?” she offers. By this I know that the room has a window, and deduce exactly which room it is. In turn, I can work out that my apprentice’s problems are not limited to simple dehydration: this is the room the healers use for patients about whom they feel serious concern. I’ve been imprisoned here myself more often than I care to think about.
“The sky is mostly clear,” Nasriel begins suddenly, the slow rhythm of the ECG monitor punctuating her words. “Torn shreds of clouds hang pink above the buildings. Some of them have been teased out like cotton-wool at the ends, by airspeeders plunging through them. The dome of the sky hangs close down to the city, and glows the color of molten copper, but the very highest clouds are as yellow as a Sentinel’s lightsaber. On the horizon, the Senate dome looks like… like a drop of methyl orange on a waxed watch glass. A column of cloud rises behind it, struck by the sun to resemble a massive safety flame.”
“A what?” I interrupt.
“The visible orange flame on a burner. Now as the sun slips away, the upper sky starts to fade to a pale green, and I’m clean out of adjectives, Master.”
“I could almost see that. Well described.” Nasriel yawns, a sleepy little sound she doesn’t try to stifle. “Get some rest,” I tell her. “If you’re worn out, Bant won’t let me come back.” Standing up to leave, I make a guess at where, in the thick darkness around me, Nasriel’s face might be, find I guessed correctly, and gently stroke her cheek. Here, too, a supple slender tube snakes across her skin, but this time Nasriel’s hand closes firmly over mine.
“I think it’s an oxygen line, Master. Leave it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
We pass three days so, talking whenever Nasriel is not too tired, until, in dubious tones, Bant pronounces her probably fit to go home, and we depart. Nasriel finds a three-day-old message from Dex on my comlink: he has taken Ben to Xantooine to meet somebody, but expects to return by the end of the week. I can’t complain. Cheerfully, Nasriel informs me that my desk is buried a meter deep in paper, but won’t investigate further because hers is too. I manage to make a cup of tea without scalding myself – harder than it sounds – and retire to bed.
The regular soft whisper of traffic outside the window lulls me almost to sleep before I hear the creeping footsteps across the main room of the quarters. From the direction of the doorway, Nasriel’s voice whispers.
“I – I can’t sleep.”
“Drank too much caf,” I suggest.
“Seen too much chizzk,” she replies soberly. “Can I… come stay with you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Sounding embarrassed, she laughs slightly, a voiceless huh-huh of expelled breath. “I mean just so I know you’re there.”
I can see no reason why not – rather, I can think of no reason why not. Nasriel is small and takes up little room, and does not wriggle in sleep. If she is troubled by tenacious memories, it is only right she should come to me for comfort: I’m her Master, after all. And I have to be her father, her mother, her brother, and her friend. Because she has nobody else. She comes across the room and lies at the very edge of the bed, one hand resting on mine. Draping the blankets to cover her from the cool night air, I resume my interrupted sleep.
I wake to feel Nasriel snuggled close to me, between my arm and body, her head pillowed on my shoulder, her arm flung across my chest in a kind of half-embrace. I am surprised: my small Padawan has never been the clingy type. But then I remember the last week or so, and I think I understand. At any rate I do not shrug off her touch.
Anyway, there are more pressing concerns. Literally rigid with fear, and shaking, Nasriel cries out in her sleep; frightened, wordless moans that eventually resolve into something whimpered, but just comprehensible:
“Master Obi-Wan. Master Obi-Wan!”
I hold her close to me, and whisper.
“Shh. Hush. It’s all right. I’m here. We’re safe.” At length I feel her body relax against mine, as the nightmare floats away, giving place to untroubled sleep for us both until morning.
Whether the day dawns bright and cheerful or not, I can never fathom. All I can gather is that Nasriel certainly does: she unfolds herself from my arms, very careful not to wake me, and unaware of the fact that I am awake already. I must assume it is this ignorance that leads her to gently kiss me on the forehead.
“I’m not asleep,” I inform her, but I’m not annoyed, either.
“Master Obi-Wan? I was thinking.” The bed creaks as she sits down beside me and takes both my hands in hers, rubbing her fingertips over the calluses in my palms.
“What were you thinking?”
“Yesterday evening, I finished the homework that was left for me. So I thought, if you wanted to get up and dress, I could make some caf, and see if there’s any of your homework I’m allowed to help with.”
Just before sliding the door shut behind her, Nasriel adds offhandedly, “Call me if you need help finding anything.” A considerate way of putting the question, but the things in my room have been stored in the same place for years. I know where everything is, and take only a little longer than usual in dressing. Gathering the papers from my desk, I pad, in stockinged feet, into the warm main room.
Nasriel takes the paperwork from me and pours out two mugs of caf. The rich, bitter scent fills the room.
“Chair two feet to your left, Master.” She flips through the folders, and I hear the heavy thuds of three of them being dropped on the floor. “No good. These are all FYEO classified. Legally, I’m probably not even meant to touch them.”
“Nasriel,” I remind her, “just at present you are my eyes. I trust you with my life. Why not with these?”
She hesitates, but I hear the soft rasp of fingers stroking paper. “I’d appreciate a direct order, Master. Just in case someone asks questions later.”
“Very well. Padawan, as I cannot possibly deal with this alone, you will kindly read each of these documents aloud, and write, at my dictation, such responses as are necessary. I would use a droid, but they can be hacked, and can’t cope with Master Windu’s handwriting. Pick a file and start.”
Nasriel sighs, and the pages of a file flutter open. “This one is the thickest. It is from Master Billaba, dated four days ago. And it’s all handwritten.” She takes a deep breath, and begins to struggle through the file. Two hours later, I tell her the reply is: Depa, no.
Three files later, Nasriel’s ink-pencil clatters onto the table. The caf pot has been refilled and re-emptied twice. It is two hours after noon and neither of us has had breakfast yet. Hearing exasperation in the dropping of the pencil, and exhaustion in my Padawan’s huff of satisfaction at another job done, I suggest we stop and rest. Nasriel agrees vehemently and slips off. I hear her bedroom door open and close again.
It is so dark, so silent, waiting here alone. I can only see the red haze of the laser wall before me… they are coming. They are coming for me; I can hear the water sloshing in the pitcher. No! I cannot – I cannot endure that again, I will die. Though I know there is nobody to hear me, I scream. The cell door slams open, and I crumble to the ground, panting in terror.
They clamp iron cuffs around my hands. I must fight this. I lash out, blindly, and feel my fists connect with something hard. The shackles drop away, and somebody grunts in pained surprise. Then, to my sickened dismay, the bands return around my wrists, and a voice hisses angrily in my ear. It is some moments before I distinguish individual words.
“…Master, please. You are home. You are safe. It’s me, it’s Nasriel, your Padawan. I promise you, there is not anyone here except me, but you are scaring me!”
“Nasriel?” My voice sounds strange and foreign to me.
“Yes. Me. Master, I’m holding your wrists. If I let go, could you try to not punch me again?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t -” Suddenly I don’t know the end of the sentence, and I really am terribly sorry. It’s not fair on her. None of it is. The war, the paperwork… hitting her because I was hallucinating. Poor Nasriel.
I feel the tears start, stinging, to my eyes, and all at once I find I’m sobbing outright, kneeling here on the floor. I am aware that I am being outrageously unfair to my Padawan. Nasriel shouldn’t have to deal with a Master losing it completely, as the saying goes. But she sits down close beside me and wraps her arms tightly around me, and waits, whispering comforting sweet nothings. Eventually I get a grip on myself.
“Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to -”
“Cry when I could hear you?” The soft fingers brush over my cheeks, wiping away tears. “It’s okay. Really. You Templars are crazy: Master and Padawan isn’t a one-way street. We’re meant to help each other. Besides…” Nariel says shyly, “it’s nice to know you’re not a machine.”
I have got to pull myself together: Ben will be home tomorrow. But for now, it is so nice just to stay here.
Nasriel sleeps with me again tonight, with the difference, no nightmares. In the morning, I think my eyes are getting better. Instead of being a dark blur, the world is a light blur, with a fuzzy whitish patch roughly where the window should be. I can see.
When Nasriel wakes up, I tell her to go stand by the window. I feel a smile slide across my face as I tell her, “Your hair looks a mess. Go and comb it.”
Delight dawns in her voice – her face is still too cloudy to read.
“It looks – !” Then I can’t see her at all, because she is hugging me tightly and laughing with joy, and so am I, and all is as it should be.