So yeah, been a while – sorry about that. However! Chapter 19! In which we burn the false-flag operation that was busy lulling Sarah into a false sense of security and resolution, and get our angst back on.
This one’s rather like an unstirred White Russian: soft, creamy start up to about halfway, with a stomach-burning vodka bite toward the end, and some ice to dull the burn when you’ve finished the substance of the cocktail. Chapter. Whatever.
When Qui-Gon and Nasriel reach the quarters, Obi-Wan is waiting for them, sitting at the table in the main room, reading a mission brief on his datapad while Tahl studiously ignores him. She is at the other side of the table, working on another brief, head high, typing away at an old-fashioned push-button keyboard because she cannot see to operate the more modern touchscreens, staring out the window and occasionally pausing in her rapid typing to check a detail from the pile of raised-print papers beside her.
“For Force sake, Qui,” she says crisply as the door opens, “what sort of time is this to get home? Tell Obi-Wan what he wants to know, so he’ll go away.”
“Not my day for being universally loved,” Obi-Wan quips. “Well?”
“Komari contracting a frame-up hit, trying to make us kill Dooku. That’s all.”
“Oh.” Laying down the datapad, the Councilor nods, raises one hand to rub his temples as if he has a headache. “How am I ever going to explain this to Bail?” he murmurs, half to himself.
Nasriel sidles past them, heading for her room, but is halted by a glacial stare from Obi-Wan.
“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be,” he warns.
“I’m going to bed,” the Padawan informs him, matching ice with ice. “I’ve had a very long day, and I’m tired, so I’m going to bed.”
“Have you any idea how many problems we are trying to deal with at the moment? Just do as you’re told. This is… ludicrously minor.”
“Not to me, it’s not!”
“Nasriel.” Qui-Gon lays his hand on her arm and squeezes just hard enough to almost hurt. “I did not raise you to behave like this.”
Chastened, temper turned to penitence as at the flick of a switch, the girl nods. “I’m sorry, Master… I’m sorry, Bi-An. You’ve got a lot to think about and I’m not being fair to you.” She adds, “If not here, where do you want me?”
“Ah. Gree’s not back yet, is she? Xan’s not back yet, Feemor left for station this morning; you could stay with Anakin and Ahsoka if anyone knew where Anakin was.”
“At the Senate,” Qui-Gon informs them, replacing his datapad in his pocket. “He took Nasriel’s citibike.”
“And you have a track on Nasriel’s bike,” Obi-Wan realizes. “Of course you do.” A pause, barely a heartbeat long. “I thought he said he was going to the lower levels again. But he’s at the Senate? They aren’t even in session today.” With a shake of his head, he sighs, relegating the question to the realms of irrelevance. “Sriel, you could always stay with me and Ben. We are only next door.”
“Okay. Um – we can talk later, Tahl?”
The lady doesn’t stop work to answer. “I’m frantic right now, darling – when you get home tomorrow, all right?”
As Nasriel nods, and makes to leave, Obi-Wan swivels in his seat to talk to her. “I think Ben’s asleep – it is rather late. You can sleep on the sofa… or take my room and I’ll sleep on the sofa. Your choice.”
“Thanks, Bi-An. I – yeah. Thanks.” Nasriel leans over as if to hug him, but changes her mind and pats him affectionately on the shoulder instead. The Great Negotiator is notoriously touchy – in one sense of the word – and about as touchy as a toxic spiny nightscowl, in the other sense.
“Oh, I know I’m the harbinger of doom at the moment,” Obi-Wan says resignedly. “I’d understand if you didn’t much like me at the moment.”
“You’re just doing your job. And we’re all being horrible to you for it. I think you’re wonderful.”
“And I think you’re overtired to the point of loofy. Clear out, go to bed.” Despite the roughness of his words to Nasriel, Obi-Wan manages to give the effect of an exasperated but indulgent older brother – which, in a way, he is.
Qui-Gon feels sick at the thought, remembering the ruin that was once the brilliant Jedi Komari Vosa. If Obi-Wan is Nasriel’s brother in the Force… then Qui-Gon is Komari’s. If Obi-Wan feels in some measure responsible for Nasriel… The relationship is almost identical, right down to the shadowy curse of the Dark Side that flows concealed, like the bitter lees in a flask of wine, unnoticed until too late, through every generation of this lineage.
When Nasriel is gone, and Tahl has muttered something about the impossibility of working in all this noise and pointedly betaken herself to the peace of her own room, Obi-Wan glances up to meet his former Master’s eyes.
“How did today go?” In plain speech, if he ever used plain speech, he would be asking am I going to be able to sleep tonight, or is your Padawan going to wake up screaming again?
“Badly. The court seems to have forgotten that a Jedi Padawan is as susceptible to trauma as any other child of comparable age. They had her start identifying the defendants and explaining what each of them liked to do to their… prey.” In plain speech, no, you will not be able to sleep.
“Blast.” But Obi-Wan sounds – and feels – more empathetic than irritated. The hard line stamped between his brows suggests that his thoughts are years away in the past. “Is she going to… cope? Raking all that up again in a courtroom?”
“A bit late to think of that now.”
“Of course. It’s just that I know I could never have –” he breaks off, scowling, and picks up a new question. “Are you… all right, Master? Coping. This whole Sith issue –”
“I have been coping with this whole Sith issue, as you put it, for longer than you have been alive. All that has changed is that it is now common knowledge. And the Council are kajitt-footing around refusing to give me a straight answer –” he holds up one hand, precluding the inevitable protest. “I know that there is a war on, and that you are all insanely busy. I am merely trying to get out of limbo and back to being of use.”
“Do you think you aren’t being of use?” blurts Obi-Wan. “Consider this enforced furlough, consider it… a Council injunction to take care of your Padawan during what is undoubtedly a difficult time for her. Because we both know you would be offworld without a second thought, leaving her to deal with this alone, if anyone gave you anything even approaching an excuse.” He takes a deep breath, and the Great Negotiator returns abruptly. “I will advance the matter again tomorrow. I may have to start getting Depa or Plo to raise it for me – Master Yoda won’t let me keep asking the same question over and over again for much longer.”
“Thank you.” Apparently, Obi-Wan Kenobi, stickler for rules, firm opponent of any kind of favoritism, has been nagging the Council on his Master’s behalf. This is more than somewhat amusing. And heartening.
“As Nasriel said… I’m just doing my job. Depending how early you two have to leave tomorrow, I might see you, or I might not. Either way, may the Force be with you.”
“And with you,” Qui-Gon returns the valediction, a moment before the door closes behind Obi-Wan. It is very late, and although it has been a chaotic day, full of more questions than answers, all he can think of right now is sleep.
That doesn’t last long.
At some preposterously Force-forsaken hour of darkness, the faint rustle in the Force, just barely enough to penetrate the pliable borders of the unconscious mind, rises to a shrill scream of panic – and is silenced at once. A moment later comes a soft scratching sound at the door of the quarters: the Sentinels’ ‘midnight knock’, devised to disturb only those already wakeful.
Unsurprised, Qui-Gon opens the door to find Nasriel is waiting in the hallway. Her hands are held out at an odd angle, down and slightly behind her, fists loosely balled; she forces a split-second smile, on seeing him, but it vanishes again immediately.
“Um – I – sor-ry…”
“Shh, Tahl’s still asleep. What’s the matter?”
“I thought I saw…” trying to find the words, she fidgets, and lapses into Saalisan. “Yrelt tre-etim pensloe dai-schen? Pyn yuxan samr, chenray! Xek, xacher: Bi-Anxan samr.”
“Hroest na, pyn Basic, chen.” Qui-Gon is not willing to discuss the possibility of Nasriel’s having seen, in the room where she was sleeping, one of the defendants from the day’s court case. Not at this hour. Not in Saalisan.
“I could see them. I woke up and I could see them. And I was scared and I – I put out my hand to see if they were real, and –”
“That at least was sensible.”
“It wasn’t! Nothing’s sensible anymore! Because I was remembering, I was remembering what they’d – they’d done, and how they didn’t care, and I hated them… like when I was with the Shaman.” She is stammering, terrified. “I told you I’d Fallen! I held out my hand, like I said, and it – it sparked. It was blue, blue sparks like lightning, and it – it burned them. They burned.”
“Give me your hand,” Qui-Gon orders sharply, realizing as if in a flash of that same blue lightning exactly what his Padawan has experienced. “No, your right hand. Put the left behind your back, out of the way. Do it now.” Nasriel’s left hand has a family crest tattooed on it, put there when she was only a toddler, before her Force-sensitivity became obvious. The tattoo, and the now half-forgotten emotions that were drilled into her skin along with it, could affect what happens next – or it could not, but he doesn’t want to take that risk.
“What’s – what’s – what did I do?” But she obeys, and submits docilely to his touch; one hand tight around her wrist, the other forcing her to hold her hand flat.
“Don’t curl your fingers under – do you want to kill me? Do it again. Whatever you were thinking when you thought you saw the slavers in your room, think it again. Remember what they did to you. Remember them torturing you. Remember them torturing the others, remember them murdering –” That is enough: Nasriel is sobbing now, and he is fully aware that what he is doing practically constitutes abuse in itself. In no universe could this possibly be justified, but it is necessary, and the sudden change in the Padawan’s expression proves it is working. Her eyes narrow as mental shields slam into place, as lips curl back in a knife-edged snarl of rage. At the tips of her fingers, a web of pale-blue light begins to crackle into life, to spit sparks out into the darkness of the corridor.
Then Nasriel gasps in pain and the sparks fade. “Can I stop? Let me stop, it hurts! Please, Master!”
“Of course, of course.” The instant he lets go of her hand, she crumples, doubled over on the ground, hair pooling like ink around her head and shoulders, arms folded across her face. She chokes silently on bitter tears, salty rivulets of pure torment, Force-signature all but screaming.
“I said I’d Fallen. You didn’t listen. You didn’t believe me, you never do.”
He falls to his knees beside her on the cold stone floor, lays one hand on her back. As if even that slight touch burns, she writhes away, and neither of them speaks again for a spell of time that seems to promise a dawnless eternity of night.
“I’m sorry,” Qui-Gon breaks the silence. “Nasriel, please… I shouldn’t have done that to you. I needed to know if you could really do that – if you had really done that – but I shouldn’t have.”
“Damn straight you shouldn’t have,” the Padawan snarls. Razor-sharp broken shards, from the impact of her train of thought crashing into a wall of realization, fly uncontrolled into the Force. “I wasn’t dreaming. That just happened. I just – oh, no. Oh, Force. How am I going to handle tomorrow?”
“Much the same as you did today – you were a calm, controlled credit to yourself.”
“I didn’t want them to think that they’d won,” Nasriel says simply, sitting up, staring past him at the moon, visible through a narrow window in the end of the corridor. “I knew I’d be taking out the change in nightmares, but I didn’t think it would spill over into being awake.” She holds her hands up to study them by the moonlight, and asks in quiet wonder, “How did you bear it? The lightning.”
“We’ll have to talk to the Council now, won’t we?”
Before Qui-Gon can reply, can say, entirely out of character, that he at least should have talked to the Council many, many years ago, they are interrupted. Further up the hall, a door slams open, and a Force aura like a silently furious golden whirlwind whisks into notice, incongruously at odds with the physical appearance of its source: Obi-Wan is barefoot and sleep-tousled, cloak flung hastily on over his nightclothes.
“What in the name of – what have you two done this time?”
“Ah…” Master and Padawan exchange glances, then Qui-Gon explains smoothly, “Nightmare. She was just going back to bed, Obi-Wan; it will be a tiring day tomorrow.”
Addressing Nasriel, “Would you mind if I came with you to the court in the morning? I’m merely curious,” Obi-Wan deflects the unspoken accusation of his wanting to keep an eye on her.
“If you can spare the time,” Nasriel says, overwhelming calmness a work of art with the brushstrokes only barely visible, “I would be honored to have you there.”
(And, for the record, I’ve never had a White Russian.)