A meditation on solitude, some explanations, a nightmare I’m sure to have for weeks, and we delay deploying The Law until we can find the appropriate reference books in the detritus of a recent reshuffle. I think they might be in the cellar…
And third time’s the charm. Decrypt that statement if you dare.
The first person he has to explain to is Tahl, who has heard nothing since before they left Malastare. An eon’s worth of complications have developed over just fourteen days.
Tahl has maintained the unnerving habit of ‘looking’ away from things or people that are annoying her, and calmly waits out the explanation, staring unseeing toward the balcony window. Her only response is, “I assume you know what I think of you at the moment.”
“It can’t be any worse than what I think of myself at the moment,” Qui-Gon says ruefully.
“Don’t try that on me, you know it doesn’t work. All those years, Qui. All those years. And now you decide to be noble and own up. What were you – no, forget it, you’re inexplicable.”
“Where to start? I gave Nasriel the comm to contact Dooku in case anything went wrong with Fett.”
“Well, that was sensible,” the lady says tartly, words dripping with sarcasm. “You have forgotten to tell me about the accident along the way where you lost what little common sense you had.”
It seems today is simply his day for accepting what is thrown at him, for he elects not to rise to Tahl’s reproach. “I gather Nasriel realized that calling me from Slave One to foil Fett’s plans of mayhem would be worse than foolish, so she did the only thing she could do under the circumstances, and called Dooku. And he… told her what we would all rather he hadn’t.”
“What you would rather he hadn’t. If you recall, I was the one begging you to tell Yoda.”
“He took her to meet the Shaman, Tahl. Nasriel’s sixteen – even at twice her age, I barely coped with that. And it’s not as if she was mentally or emotionally stable to start with. He used the hell she’s been through, to make her believe she’d fallen to the Dark Side. We’ve never really had a chance to work through anything that’s happened.”
“Stop it, Qui. Stop making excuses. You had plenty of chance; you just didn’t take it. I don’t know if it wouldn’t be better for Nasriel if she was transferred.” Although she has not cried tears for nearly four decades, Tahl still instinctively wipes her eyes when she is upset, and does so now. “Go away. I still love you, you know that – but this is a lot to process. Just go away.”
Qui-Gon obediently goes away, to seek out the living, centering green of the meditation gardens. Although he would prefer to go to Dex’s cantina, and tap the Besalisk’s remarkable network of contacts for information, Dex is missing… besides, the Council, in addition to stripping him of all official rank and handing down a formal censure, have imposed the further humiliation of forbidding him to leave the Temple precinct until further notice. Under ordinary circumstances, Qui-Gon would simply ignore the injunction, but Yoda rather more than hinted that Nasriel’s future as his Padawan depends upon his compliance.
Toward evening, Feemor comes to find him, at the stone seat beside the waterfall in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. They have not been Master and Padawan for a very long time – Qui-Gon was Knighted only a little ahead of Feemor, and, when the younger man’s Master died, took over his training for the year or so that remained of his apprenticeship. They are more like brothers than like anything else.
“Thought we supposed to be were friends,” Feemor greets him bluntly. “When were you planning to tell me about all this?”
“Probably never.” They stand facing across the stone, which forms a kind of barrier. Neither makes any attempt to circumvent it. Barriers feel safer, at present.
“Mm. Explains why you still haven’t. I had to worm it out of Kenobi. Fine way to find something out about your own Master – hearing it from the next Padawan but one.” Feemor sighs heavily, and turns, shaking his head, to retrace his steps the way he came. “You’re a coward, Jinn, you know that?” he calls back just before disappearing.
“What was I supposed to do?” Qui-Gon shouts after him, but there is no reply.
The Temple is always quiet for the disgraced. Scandals spread like dust in a windstorm, and everybody takes care to keep out of the way. Qui-Gon has plenty of time to think, through the gathering shrouds of a dusk that fades unnoticed behind heavy clouds. Long into the watches of the night, he paces the marble halls, passing, armored in an impenetrable shell of melancholy, in and out of the shadows cast by towering statues of great Jedi.
Wending his way homeward only as the moonless night unwillingly gives way to a sunless morning, he finds Tahl already gone, returned to her daily task of gathering information for mission briefings. Even in the darkest times, life goes on. Plo Koon is waiting for him, masked and inscrutable as ever.
“Do you have time to talk?” the Councilor asks, as if he does not already know Qui-Gon has time immeasurable and nothing with which to fill it.
“Do you? Being so occupied with Council business?”
“I have time to listen,” Plo decides.
“So apparently Obi-Wan has more important things to do than try to work out whether I’m a Sith.” Qui-Gon can see the humor in this.
“Master Kenobi felt that it was not his place. And you know that if there was any serious question of your being one of the Sith, you would be in a Force-blocked containment cell before you could say Dark Side.”
“Why is there no such ‘serious question’?”
“Are you trying to convince me that there should be?” Plo returns, calm and calculating. “Let us be reasonable.” Plo Koon’s definition of reasonable is different from Qui-Gon’s; this reasonable takes a long time, standing there in the corridor being carefully disregarded by every passer-by, because Qui-Gon does not want any fragment of this discussion inside his home. Reasonable is a minefield, full of sharp questions that have spiny, dangerous answers. Reasonable is exhausting, but, at last, even reasonable ends, when Plo nods slowly, and asks one last question: why now?
“Why not?” His interrogator does not accept a question in lieu of an answer, so Qui-Gon says shortly, “Nasriel.”
“Ah. Yes, children alter things, do they not? But I am curious: Obi-Wan, and even further back, Xanatos, did not prompt this extraordinary confession, yet Nasriel…?”
“Or more accurately, Dooku, who told Nasriel. If I had not informed the Council myself, she would have been forced to tell you, or else to keep the secret. Either way, she would have been in an impossible position. That particular difficulty simply didn’t occur with any of the boys.” He told Xanatos himself, on returning from Telos – and swore the boy to silence. But he is telling the truth: the specific difficulty of Dooku’s disclosure to Nasriel is a new one.
“Mm,” is Plo’s only response, non-committal to the end. “Thank you for your time, Qui-Gon.”
It is still some hours before noon, and when Plo leaves, suddenly Qui-Gon cannot be bothered going back into the silent, empty quarters. Odd – usually he does not mind solitude, and can spend days or weeks alone without really noticing. Because it is his choice. Today is different – today his own company is stifling, smothering, but inescapable. Everybody he could possibly track down to while away time with is outside the Temple or… busy. He returns to the gardens, remaining there, doing nothing in particular, until nightfall. Tahl is working late, and it is past midnight when Qui-Gon finally gives up waiting on the quarters’ balcony for her, and goes to bed.
He wakes, a moment or an hour later, absolutely certain that for some inexplicable reason Nasriel has come home in the middle of the night. But the quarters are still silent and empty, and the last lingering whisper of the Padawan’s presence hardens into a stabbing shard of isolation.
Crushing loneliness… apprehension for the coming day… apprehension about what the Council will decide… missing an absent Master… wondering why it’s so noisy… Qui-Gon is surprised – the last two thoughts are patently not his. Getting up, thinking to go out to the balcony for some air, he only manages to take a few steps across the room before being plunged into a ludicrously, terrifyingly vivid nightmare.
Tahl is looking for him, stalking through a burning-colored jungle that falls abruptly into narrow, winding streets of teetering wooden tenements. He watches, from somewhere high up and slightly to the left, as she finds and walks trustingly towards someone who looks exactly like him; but the darkness in his strange double’s eyes should have been a giveaway. Love, he reflects, is bare shades removed from hate… the doppelganger holds out one hand toward the wonderful bronze figure that is Tahl, and crimson lightning blazes through the street, meshing around her, stabbing at her eyes as she doubles over in pain…
Even through the confusion of the dream, Qui-Gon is perplexed: that is not how it happened at all. He should know – he was there, and will never be able to forget.
The lightning whirls up and tosses the nightmare down a vortex into a filthy cellar, where something – or somethings – alive cower in the shadowed corners. The door at the top of a flight of rickety steps slams open, hurling a ray of harsh red light in a crisp line straight to the far wall, not illumining anything along the way. Following the light into the cellar is a man, with a black void where his face should be. The man reaches into the shadows and drags out a little girl cradling a kitten. He snatches the mewling animal from her and crushes it under his heel before leaving, closing the door very softly behind him and shutting out the light.
But it wasn’t a kitten – it was a baby.
The faceless man again, wearing a judge’s regalia and sitting high up, behind a desk. He bangs a gavel down on the desk and shouts something incomprehensible, but obviously frightening. At once, the nightmare collapses into seamless blackness. Qui-Gon is returned abruptly to his own quarters, reeling from the shock, and recognizing one – only one – image from the dream. The dead baby, lying in the slimy mess of its own pulverized brain, is something Nasriel saw during the months of her enslavement. One of the memories she showed him upon her return, when she needed him to understand why she is now afraid of the dark.
It was Nasriel’s nightmare. Nasriel who misses her Master.
Qui-Gon absent-mindedly reaches up to tug at the leather cord of the stone charm, to remind himself it is still there… but it isn’t. He gave it to Nasriel. Well. Taharat did warn him that it was a heartstone, a talisman reputed to link its wearer to whoever came before them – a homeworld superstition to which he never paid a great deal of attention. Either there really is something in the story, or else the Force works in ways more mysterious than he has yet guessed.
Dressing, and fetching his cloak as defense against the cold of the night, he traverses the echoing halls between his quarters and the Ninth Lower level where the transient Sentinels stay. A deeply unamused Gree Yarzakawula meets him at the lift-tube.
“Is Nasriel all right?” he asks her.
“You are aware that it is third hour?” Gree checks. “I thought not. She’s fine. Go back to bed.”
“Only I…” He changes tack, saying authoritatively, “I sensed a disturbance in the Force.”
“Just a nightmare. I gave her some of the sedatives the healers prescribed for Foz’s Padawan when we got back from clearing up that whole chizzk-storm. D’you know Nasriel talks in her sleep? By the sound of things, she was nightmare-ing about you doing something horrific, and… murdering a baby came into it a bit later on. I’ll wager you’re the last person she’d want to see tonight. Go on, clear out.”
“If she’s still awake, tell her I came by.”
Gree nods sleepily. “I will. May the Force be with you, Master Jinn.” She adds, “Don’t worry about Nasriel – we’ll take good care of her. And if it’s any comfort to you… nobody downstairs will believe you ever went beyond Grey.”
“Force help me, Gree, it was far beyond Grey. That’s the plain truth.” Qui-Gon manages to ignore the sympathy in the Sentinel’s eyes. She feels barely older than Anakin – how could she understand that Falling does hurt? It hurts even more than trying to return.
But, “You’re right,” Gree says. “Force help you.”