A heaping tablespoon of cute. Because life is chizzk and then you die, and there ain’t no harm in sweetening it where you can.
And hot chocolate, despite objections at this end – I’m figuring the Galaxy is
big enough to support cacao beans somewhere, and old enough that by now someone must have worked out what they’re good for.
Nasriel calls just two hours before midnight, and at least four hours after Qui-Gon first began to worry. Trial depositions do not normally take this long. He answers his comm at the first ring.
“Nasriel, finally. Well, how did it go?”
“I – it was – Master –” The last word dissolves into a shuddering gasp, and then she is weeping, on the brink of hysteria. Though she is still trying to talk, she is, literally, incomprehensible.
“Shh, Nasriel… it’s all right; calm down, then tell me what happened.”
Abruptly, Gree comes on the line. “Master Jinn? Sorry, I know it’s late… it’ll be hours before they finish with me and Foz, but if you don’t mind, I’ll bring the kid home and she can spend the night at your place – better that than keeping her hanging around here. Is that all right?”
“Yes, Gree, that is fine. That is more than fine; I will see you soon, now put Nasriel back on. Please,” he remembers, a moment too late.
As soon as the Padawan has her comlink back, she starts explaining again, tearful and uneven. “They were – asking all sorts of – horrible questions! I told you I couldn’t do it – and –” A slimy noise halfway between a sniff and a gulp. “That’s only a deposition; we stopped about five times because it was getting too much for me, how am I going to cope with a trial? They can ask anything…”
“Nasriel Threeb,” Qui-Gon interrupts sternly, “you are a Padawan of the Jedi Order, and I have seen you deal calmly with much more terrible animals than lawyers. Center yourself. Focus on the present moment. What is happening right now?”
“It’s not the lawyers that bother me, it’s the past,” the Padawan snips, but takes a deep breath and… focuses on the present moment. “We – I’m with Gree,” she continues, almost in a gasp, but now only breathing too hard and too fast, rather than sobbing. “We’re walking down a corridor toward where she parked her speeder. We’re passing the courtroom doors. They’re open, and some of the lawyers are huddled around talking to the judges. There’s going to be a jury in tomorrow, and a bailiff is checking their box to make sure there’s nothing there that shouldn’t be.”
“Good. Have they let you look around the courtroom and see where you’re going to be?” The mechanics of a situation are easier to talk about and harder to emote about than apprehensions of things that might happen. Many are the times Qui-Gon has talked one of his Padawans back almost to serenity, by dint of mere distraction. After all, the present moment can only ever contain an instant’s worth of problems.
“Yeah – yeah, I’ve seen that, and Foz had some time to explain about cross-examination and stuff. We’re at the speeder now.”
“Keep talking. You don’t want to distract Gree’s driving by breaking out the waterworks again. Tell me about what you can see straight to your right.” During the rest of the half-hour it takes to drive back to the Temple, Nasriel describes two traffic accidents, all eight of the speeders that, at different times, are in front of her, dozens of holobillboards, and a very vivid point of light she can see directly overhead and insists is a star (although her Master openly suspects it of being a geostationary satellite).
Qui-Gon tells her, in return, about the Saalisan riyo-tree saplings that have just been planted in the gardens, about the few buds of the potted snowdrift shrub on the balcony that have opened, revealing the fluffy white edges of the flowers, and about his brief visit with Master Yoda this morning. He does not tell her that he and Yoda played sabaac, with information by way of stakes, or that he lost every single hand, much to the Grand Master’s delight. He also does not tell Nasriel that Kijé Yenseh offered to hack into the Central Court surveillance systems to check that she was all right, or that he politely declined the offer.
When the background sound of the engine jolts to a stop, Nasriel’s voice, asking inane questions about the riyo trees, suddenly becomes shakier, on reaching the Temple where other Jedi can see her so obviously tear-stained and emotionally wobbly. Qui-Gon hears Gree telling the girl not to break up now, so close to home, and the link abruptly cuts out. He uses all of the five minutes this gives him, in checking that Nasriel’s room is tidy and her bed made, locating the teacups these four weeks out of use, and turning on the electric kettle that Obi-Wan so strongly disapproves of as uncivilized. It is practical, Obi-Wan: practicality is as worthy as tradition, is his usual placid response.
Voices outside in the hall; tap-tapping of a code as trembling fingers fly over the keypad, too uncentered to fling the door open with a Force-driven flick of the wrist. Nasriel all but tumbles into the room, and Gree catches her arm.
“Steady on, kiddo. Um… Master Jinn? I’ll be back about eighth hour tomorrow for her. Hopefully before Kenobi notices she’s not downstairs.”
“Thank you, Gree. A thousand times.”
Gree laughs, the suddenly sheepish usual response of a Sentinel to thanks or compliments. “Nah, I don’t have time for that chizzk. Got to go – may the Force be with you.”
The instant the door is closed, “Are we going to get in trouble?” asks Nasriel. She is shivering, arms wrapped tightly in front of her, and her long black hair hangs untidily, half-covering her face.
“More importantly, are you cold?” Her slow, emphatic nod, the gesture bearing an eerie echo of the strange H’Vong child in the Sentinel quarters two days ago, is the only reply. “Kettle’s on,” Qui-Gon observes, going to turn up the thermostat. “I was going to make tea. Would you rather talk – or find something unrelated to do?”
After a solemn pause for thought, “Talk, please,” Nasriel decides. “Today was vile.” Not waiting for any further prompting, she curls up on the sofa, knees drawn up to her chest, arms firmly around them, and begins. “They asked if… I was sure I’d been raped. If I was sure I’d been tortured. Sure? I’m sure. I see the scars every day… I remember, when all I want to do is be normal again. I remember being held down and –” She breaks off, shaking her head, mouth working soundlessly at words unsayable. “They asked if I was sure any of this had happened at all and it wasn’t just a hallucination – I told them to look at the kriffing holos and then they dropped the subject.” Her head falls forward, and her shoulders lurch with the force of strangled, gasping sobs. “What do you do with people like that?”
“Endure them.” Coming to sit beside her, Qui-Gon holds his Padawan close, rocking gently as if soothing a youngling; tamping down the fury rising in his soul. She is damp – with tears and mucus both – and slimy, and disheveled, and a dozen different kinds of damaged, and he loves her regardless. “You are in an uncivilized mess.”
“Yeah,” Nasriel agrees readily, face pressed against him, voice muffled. “I’ll go clean up.” She disappears into the ‘fresher room, and ten minutes later, in a waft of halsamint-scented steam, half-opens the door to peer into the main room, wet hair dripping on the floor. “Can I have my pajamas, please? Top drawer.”
Qui-Gon stifles a smile when she reappears, scrubbed clean, wrist-thick plait still waterlogged, clad in fuzzy brown flannel pajamas and looking about twelve years old. Nasriel grins, with just barely a hint of wistfulness.
“Like old times, isn’t it?” She tugs at her trailing Padawan braid, visible only now the rest of her hair is secured back. “I – had to undo it a couple days ago, it was all gritty… and… you know it plaits in three because –” Suddenly choking up, she comes close enough for him to see the braid.
“Because Master, Padawan, the Force – these are one.” A brief swell of pathos hits him: rather than the usual tight, even, three-part weave, Nasriel’s braid is fashioned into a sloppy twist, two strands wound together. “You really felt that much alone, minx?”
The Padawan nods. “We can fix it, though, right?”
“Of course.” He pauses, hand hovering over the row of jars in the tiny cupboard. “Hot chocolate rather than tea?”
“That would be very nice,” the girl says.
So Nasriel sips a mug of creamy hot chocolate, sitting quietly on the sofa beside Qui-Gon as he carefully smoothes out the damp jet-black strands, divides by three, and begins to braid.
Master, Padawan, the Force. Teacher, student, wisdom. Beginning, middle, end. Past, present, future. A three-fold cord is not easily broken, and a Jedi apprentice’s braid is a fine but durable link binding the generations together, Master to Padawan, through thousands of years… back and back and back.
Tying off the end of the braid, he tugs it gently, and Nasriel runs her fingers appreciatively down its length.
“Much better.” In the mug, powdery dregs of chocolate slosh about, stirred by the Padawan’s fidgeting. “How late is Master Yoda usually up?”
“And why do you expect me to know that?”
“You know most things.” She shrugs, impatiently dismissing her Master’s fallibility as irrelevant. “Because if he’s still awake, we could go and ask if you’d be allowed to come to the court tomorrow. They let people in the spectators’ gallery, you know.”
“You’re testifying tomorrow?”
“I might be. I’m third in the official trial order – it depends how long they take with the others and how many surprises there are. Foz said they’d likely want more than one day with me. Being it’s such a big case and I know the most about it.”
“I’ll ask. And if I’m not allowed, I’ll come anyway.”
She nods, relieved. “I thought you might.” She is still stroking her braid, twisting the sable brush of its tip. In the past, Xanatos once succumbed to temptation and tried painting with the end of his braid – only to find out too late that cobalt is a permanent pigment. In the present, Nasriel shivers convulsively, almost spilling her drink.
“Are you all right? Your cloak’s in your room if you want it.”
“Just cold,” the Padawan murmurs, drifting across the room for her cloak, apparently forgetting halfway what she is doing, and changing direction to sit on the floor staring out the window.
“Minx… cloak.” Going to fetch it, the Master drapes it around her, and joins her on the floor. “What’s so interesting out there?”
“Snowdrifts,” enunciates Nasriel, and promptly falls asleep, tumbling sideways against Qui-Gon, her overlarge cloak – the smallest size the quartermaster’s stores had – puddling around her on the wooden floor. He cannot help being concerned: the last time Nasriel was this lethargic, and this illogically cold, was a little over a month ago now, and it preceded a soaring fever and an anxious week when her very survival was uncertain. Now is not the best time for a reprise.
“Nasriel – Padawan – wake up.”
“Mm.” She doesn’t exactly wake, so Qui-Gon pulls her unceremoniously to her feet and escorts her to her room. While tidy, it is, he notices, very dusty, with a stuffy smell and an air of abandonment.
“You – bed. I will go and talk to Master Yoda.”
“Mm-hm.” The Padawan spills forward onto the blankets, making no particular attempt to be orthodoxly in bed, and Qui-Gon shakes his head in amused exasperation, leaving her to sort it out herself – or not. Not seems more likely.
He comes back shortly after midnight, after a trying but ultimately successful interview with Master Yoda – who, fortunately, was awake – to find Tahl sitting on the edge of Nasriel’s bed, and Nasriel snugly tucked under the heavy blankets, sound asleep.
“You are hopeless with children,” Tahl notifies him, the moment the door opens. “And luckier than you deserve. And by the presence of you, you’re exhausted. Go to bed, you’re making me tired.”
“I know; leave her be and go to bed yourself.” And very shortly, there is peace in the quarters. At least until morning.