Third installment. Tahl takes a turn in her own AU. And to those who think the arrangement of quarters in this universe seems suspiciously reminiscent of a normal family – well, yes, it does. It’s meant to.
I know that’s you, Nasriel, stop tiptoeing. Come over here; you’ve been on mission with Qui-Gon for a month, so your hair is bound to be a tangled womprats’-nest. I’ll sort it out.
Qui didn’t come in with you, which tells me he’s filing the report. Does he still make you draft mission reports for essay practice? How did it go – that’s rhetorical. I can tell by your breathing and the set of your shoulders that you didn’t find him. It’s a wild bantha chase, sweetheart, and Qui must have accepted that, after two years and ten month-long stints of hunting. Dooku is gone; you can’t find a Sentinel who doesn’t want to be found.
And I know I’m making the comb tug. It’ll do you good to realize someone can love you and still hurt you. Outside the dojo Qui-Gon treats you like a glass doll. Or one of those impossibly delicate wooden figures Obi-Wan makes. You’re only a child, but I think you might understand this: just because your Master loves you – don’t give me that face, missy, he does! – yes, I am blind, but I know what face you were making; now listen. Just because Qui-Gon loves you, it doesn’t mean he won’t hurt you by mistake.
Well… I doubt that particular incident in the dojo was entirely on accident, sweetheart. And that was Xanatos anyway. I meant hurting your feelings: he’d never do that maliciously, but because he is an obstinate gundark of a man – yes, by all means tell him I said that – he sometimes wounds people deeply without meaning to or even knowing it. Yes, personal experience. No, I won’t elaborate.
Nasriel, this is a mess. Even combing muja-seed oil through, we’ll be a long time about it. What? No, I will not tell you about how come I’m blind. You’ve heard it at least three times already from the boys. I’ll tell you another story instead. The New Apsolon situation, I think. Now there’s a tale worth repeating. It all started when Ewane was killed – or rather, when he was elected Governor, the first ruler of the new, reformed system. His daughters Eritha and Alani were friends of mine. When Ewane died, his comrade Roan was elected in his place; Roan did not hold the people’s love, and the secret police of the old regime began to hold sway again, undermining the authorities by their reign of terror. The girls were afraid, and sent to the Temple asking me to help them.
Oh, don’t you start on tthat too! Like Master, like Padawan: Qui-Gon tried to discourage me from going alone, but I insisted. Alani and Eritha trusted me. In the end I had to infiltrate the secret police – the Absolutes – to find out who among the new regime’s leaders still supported the old ways in secret. Secrets are terrible things, little one: they are never what they seem, even when you have uncovered them. This time I found what I wanted to know, but too late. One of the traitors really working for the Absolutes, the Security Controller Balog, worked out that I was a spy, and whisked me away into the back of nowhere, to discover exactly how much I knew.
The Absolutes were masters of interrogation and pain, Padawan. They often used a paralyzing drug which left the victim conscious but immobilized; it wore off quickly, but if reused many times, resulted in permanent damage. Muscle deterioration, organ failure, little things like that. Qui-Gon had no idea any of this had happened, of course, but after I’d been gone a month, he came looking for me. If Obi-Wan and Xanatos hadn’t worked out that he was leaving, the only result would have been two dead Jedi rather than one.
Xan left Bruck here to keep Bant company – you didn’t know I trained Bant, did you? Only for a few years, until she discovered she was better suited to healing than undercover work. Don’t laugh; it’s a high calling. The idea that warriors are somehow greater, you got from Qui-Gon: some sort of hangover from his time with Master Dooku, and not baggage you need to weigh yourself down with, sweetheart. Force knows you’ve got enough to carry for a twelve-year-old.
Where was I? ‘Kidnapped and tortured by Balog‘ – you have such a delicate way of putting things, child. Just like your Master. Now, I had no way of knowing what went on outside, but according to the boys (Boys. Oh dear. And Xanatos over forty!) a hundred and one things went wrong along the way. Qui-Gon almost got arrested for something. Obi-Wan was hurt in a rock-fall of some sort. If Xanatos hadn’t been there to stay with him, Qui wouldn’t have found me for at least another day. I would have died.
I almost died anyway. Two things kept me alive: the New Apsolon medics, and the knowledge that Qui-Gon was right beside me the whole time, willing me to live.
Am I what? No, Nasriel, I am not in love with Qui-Gon, nor he with me. That would be a greater catastrophe than Obi-Wan’s disaster a few years ago. Poor boy; we thought for a few weeks that we had lost him entirely. He was devastated. For some reason I found favor as a confidant, and he told me the whole thing. And that is absolutely all I will repeat. What I’ve said so far could refer to any one of a dozen missions, and I won’t tell you Obi-Wan’s secrets any more than I’d tell him yours.
There. And I hope next time I have to untangle your hair, you’ll at least have found Master Dooku. Though I don’t think it likely, sad to say.