Sorry, it’s been a while, and I’ve been working silly hours and reading silly things in between times instead of being Useful and Productive. Bad writer. However. Life goes on, for our favorite Jedi as well as for me. Sarah… I’ve mangled your username to make it (marginally) less obvious. And Erin… a reciprocal snowball fight.
Oh, and a mild cliffie.
When Qui-Gon has collected Nasriel – almost crying with relief that her part in the trial is over – and returned to the main concourse, he finds the last of the defendants being hustled out the door, and Obi-Wan waiting for him a dozen meters nearer, expression elaborately neutral.
“What have you done now?” Qui-Gon asks.
“I may have mentioned to the judge that it is excessively unpleasant for a witness to be confronted, and threatened, by a man to whose crimes she is witnessing, and the judge may have agreed with me.”
Nasriel smiles. “Thanks, Bi-An. Um, where did you put the car? You dropped us off at the door this morning.”
“Down on the street.” Craning his neck to look out the courthouse doors, Obi-Wan clarifies, “Through that gauntlet of reporters.” As luck has it, they reach the door at the same time as the mob of defense lawyers, all arguing importantly among themselves.
Obi-Wan is blessed with the inexplicable capacity of drawing to himself all and any spare attention in a vicinity, without appearing to do anything remarkable. Qui-Gon has seen him deploy this strange power on battle-station bridges, in the Council chamber to great effect, and in the middle of family quarrels, but he usually avoids doing anything of the sort when there are reporters about.
Tonight, though, Qui-Gon can almost hear the click of a switch as Obi-Wan turns on his unique brand of charisma, in the moment of crossing the threshold between the golden but austere peace of the courthouse corridor into the maelstrom outside, a storm composed of equal parts flashing droidcams, shouted questions, and eddying snowflakes, razor-edged chips of ice hurled about by the gale that screams along the street.
As they slip outside, miraculously invisible in the shadow the Great Negotiator casts for them, Nasriel keeps her head down, cloak tight around her against the bitter wind, and stays close to her Master. They pass unchallenged almost as far as the curb, while Obi-Wan, a few paces ahead, tranquilly and repeatedly denies any personal involvement in the trial. Beyond the crowd of reporters, standing on the brink of the vertiginous drop down from the sidewalk-edge, one woman stands detached, clutching a notebook and intently studying the faces of the people trickling past her out of the courthouse. Her eyes narrow when she sees the defense team come out and halt on the sidewalk to look for an air taxi, and in two strides she is next to the senior lawyer, Defense himself.
“You, sir, are a villain,” the woman declares coolly, loud enough for Qui-Gon, a full ten meters away, to hear her.
The instant he notices the woman, Obi-Wan shies away toward the car, giving those behind him a clear view of what transpires – just as well, really, Qui-Gon will think later, for it would have been a pity to miss it.
The woman slaps Defense soundly on the cheek, with a sharp crack like a dry branch snapping.
“That poor little girl. You are no better than the slime you’re defending,” the tirade continues. Defense can’t leave without making a scene, as the woman is gripping his expensive lapels. “The trauma she has been through, and now you – you kzah – have to twist the knife. You are despicable and I swear I will tell the whole world so.” With one final shake of Defense’s already quite shaken person, she lets him go, spitting on the ground at his feet as a parting shot.
When the dazed lawyer has rejoined his colleagues – who have found a cab in the meantime – the excitable lady turns, with a beaming smile, to Nasriel, who stands waiting to be able to pass.
“Padawan Threeb, you are a hero.”
“I was only doing my duty,” the Padawan murmurs, eyes firmly fixed on Obi-Wan, only a few meters away along the street, but almost invisible in the gusting snow.
“Are you glad you testified?” the stranger asks, earnest, sincere in her quest for an answer, and waits, motionless, for Nasriel’s reply.
“I am glad to have done it. I am glad if what I said helps the jury reach a just verdict.”
“Thank you,” the woman says, gently. “For what you did, and for talking to me. I am honored to have met you, Nasriel Threeb.” Tucking her notebook under her arm, she pulls off one woolen glove and politely extends her bare hand to shake Nasriel’s, before whisking away down the sidewalk in a flurry of snowflakes.
In the warmth of the car on the way home, windshield wipers squeaking rhythmically on snowdrifts, Qui-Gon drives with one hand on the steering yoke, the other arm around Nasriel, who wilts wearily against him on the bench frontseat of the car. Obi-Wan sits on the other side, arms folded, inscrutable.
“You do know who that woman was?” he demands suddenly of Nasriel.
“That was Sarathpas.” When this elicits only a non-committal huh, he adds softly, “Coruscant’s foremost gossip columnist. She wasn’t joking when she told that lawyer she could tell the whole world what she thought of him – and people will read it; she writes well.”
This is too good to pass up – Qui-Gon asks, very solemn and polite, “Now, how would you know that, Obi-Wan?”
“I like to keep track of who’s where,” the Councilor defends himself, blushing scarlet – or perhaps that is only the brightly-lit holobillboard they pass under a moment later. “Chances are she’ll write about you, Sriel.”
“She won’t,” Nasriel says with a kind of quiet certainty. “I know it.”
When they get back to the Temple, it is late: ludicrously, lights-out-in-the-main-courtyard late. Obi-Wan fumbles in his pocket for his Council override chip to turn them back on, but Qui-Gon puts out one hand to stay him.
“No need.” And so they walk home through the deserted Temple halls, their steps guided by the cold, pure radiance of cloud-shattered moonlight reflected and magnified off new-fallen snow. In the corridor between their neighboring front doors, after insisting on Obi-Wan giving her a moment’s patience so she can kiss Qui-Gon goodnight, Nasriel disappears into the Kenobi quarters to sleep. Because the Council edict is still in full force.
She is back in the morning, tapping on the balcony window, at around sixth hour. It is still cold and dark outside, and beginning to snow again; Nasriel is shuffling her feet, scuffling the snow on the balcony and soaking the hem of her overlong cloak with meltwater, and breathing like a young draigon in little puffs of swiftly dissipating smoke.
When Qui-Gon, already awake and, this past half-hour, at work on their grievously overdue mission report, goes to let her in, she explains, unasked and bubbling with mischievous hilarity, “I climbed over from Obi-Wan’s terrace.” And indeed, a row of footprints decorates the narrow ledge bridging the sheer cliff of Temple wall between the neighboring balconies.
“Does Obi-Wan know where you are?”
“Um… no.” Grinning like a drawerful of polished knife-blades at the delightful idea of the Great Negotiator’s anticipated confusion, Nasriel stoops to shake a load of ice-crystals off one of the plants, and changes the subject. “Can we bring the candy-paper plant inside? It doesn’t like cold weather; it got all tarnished last year.”
“Candy-paper plant,” the Master mutters in disbelief, but cannot deny that the kaba lily’s leaves do resemble the gold-foil paper used to wrap chocolates. “You may bring it in and put it in the ‘fresher-room,” he decides, magnanimously overlooking his Padawan’s act of botanical heresy. “… if you brush the snow off it to keep it from dripping.”
“Okay.” And within minutes, the plant is wedged between the basin and the shower, and Nasriel has set a pot of tea brewing, and pulled up a stool to join Qui-Gon at the table.
“What are we doing, Master?”
“Something absolutely thrilling… mission report.”
Nasriel nods, and extracts her journal from her cloak pocket, to contribute notes. He has not seen her this unreservedly happy in… months. And says so.
“I’m home,” Nasriel says, as if that should settle the matter. When it doesn’t, she continues, “I’m home – it’s all finished, we’re writing the mission report already. It’s over. I’m free. And after yesterday, I know I’m… okay. In that courtroom, I could have made every single one of those yrelt dai-schenal keel over and drop dead, with nobody having any clue what was happening. And it wasn’t a matter of getting away with it, because I could have done that too. I even wanted to. But I didn’t. So whatever the Council has to say about it – whenever they decide to say it – I know I didn’t Fall after all.”
“Nobody would doubt it of you for a second,” Qui-Gon assures her soberly, aware of the subtext his Padawan is bound to pick up.
And she does. “Don’t worry,” says Nasriel, roles suddenly reversing as apprentice tries to comfort Master in a dark time. “If they’re really trying to find the truth, they will.”
He is not worrying. He just wishes that this Sith question, too, was over, and no longer hanging about him – about both of them – as a smothering black fog, thicker and darker and more polluted than the smog-laden storm clouds gathered and at bursting point in the predawn twilight outside the window.
A moment later, a knock on the door isn’t Obi-Wan, on Council business, but Ahsoka, on a rather different errand, flushed and excitable.
“Um… good morning, Master Jinn… ‘Morning, Sriel. You know it snowed – like a lot – last night. We’re trying to get a snowball fight going on the main steps and courtyard, see if we can get enough Padawans along that the Spire crew can’t stop us. D’you want to…?”
“Who’s in already?” Nasriel asks.
“Skyguy and Ben and Bruck and me… and I threw your name around – hope you don’t mind – and got about ten of the Boehme gang in… and Maris and Dama and Jax and Caleb Dume. Do you think twenty will cut it?”
“Call Kijé Yenseh or Telcontir Leannen,” Qui-Gon advises. “They seem to have the most influence with the other Padawans. And have you been down to Ninth Lower? The Sentinels have never been averse to baiting the Council.”
Ahsoka scowls in frank confusion. “Are you supposed to tell me stuff like that?”
“Okay, cool, then. Kijé, Telcontir, and Ninth Lower. You coming, Sriel?”
Nasriel turns to her Master with a faint, hopeful smile. “May I?” And when permission is solemnly given to participate in a jaunt whose explicit intention is to irritate the Council, and Qui-Gon has assured her that he can fill in the details from her journal notes later, Nasriel snatches up her cloak from where it was drying over a chair, and vanishes with Ahsoka.
The mission report progresses perhaps another paragraph, and then Qui-Gon has had enough, and anyway, can’t go any further until he has Nasriel to decode her notes about what happened while she was away with Fett, and then with Dooku. Aching for a proper sunrise but knowing that the slight lightening of the dirty grey horizon is as good as it will get today, or for many days hence, he goes out onto the balcony. Qui-Gon dislikes winter, and Coruscant’s all-pervasive pollution. But he knows that the Temple, most days comfortably above the gritty cloud cover, has some of the cleanest air on the planet. Compared to Pulchris or Felucia, though, that isn’t saying much, and it is even worse since the war began.
At least the snow still falls white. At least the children can still play. Many stories below in the courtyard, snowball fight seems to have disintegrated into girls against boys: Ahsoka has Ben down, and is scrubbing his face with a handful of snow… or she is until Bruck, eldest present and acting peacemaker, pulls them apart by the collars and sends them off in opposite directions. But there are still over a hundred Padawans and young Knights down there, hurling snowballs with terrifying accuracy; playing silly games, for one morning, with no thought of the war outside their gates; laughing. Qui-Gon is sorry for whomever the Council sends downstairs to break up the melee.
And then Mace calls.
Instead of calling his Padawan’s comlink and making her come up alone, Qui-Gon goes down to the courtyard to fetch her in person. It takes Kijé, standing watching from a corner and instantly volunteering to find Nasriel to save Master Jinn the trouble, exactly one minute and three direct snowball hits to locate his friend and let her know her Master is looking for her. Nodding resignedly, she trudges toward the foot of the steps, where Qui-Gon waits.
“Nasriel…” She looks up the moment he says her name, aura sparking with nervousness, but comes anyway, absolutely and silently trusting him, even after the next words: “We’ve been called before the Council.”