Please note that I am and have been using the Galactic Standard Calendar for all calculations of time. (i.e. one year consists of three weeks, three days, and ten months, each month consisting of seven weeks of five days: thirty-five days a month, 368 days a year. A Standard day is calculated from Coruscant, and comes out the same as an Earth day.)
jmmdh1 over at FanFiction.net is responsible for a few lines toward the end of this chapter, on account of xir making some very good points that hadn’t actually occurred to me… whoops.
Sarah, heads up: there’s a journal clip in between the sets of asterisks.
Translation of all Saalisan used in this chapter is footnoted at the end, for the benefit of the time-poor, and the dictionary is back up, for the benefit of the weird.
Mace Windu greets them with a silent scowl – years of familiarity with the Korun Master have taught Qui-Gon that this is merely the consequence of yet another early-morning Council session, and not a symptom of personal grievance. Obi-Wan, in his place almost in a corner, smiles for half an instant, a tiny flicker of reassurance… a warning that he is going to be the Great Negotiator today, not the wryly humorous, hotheaded brat he lets himself be at home.
This morning the Council has decided it will deal with Nasriel first – as likely to take less time. After all, she has only spent a week with a Sith Lord and the Shaman of the Whills and been seen to be capable of using Sith lightning. Comparatively speaking, this is nothing, and certainly less important than the Council’s concern five weeks ago that she was following uncannily closely in the pattern laid down by Komari Vosa in the months before her desertion of the Order. Five weeks is not even a full month in the Standard calendar. So much has happened in five weeks.
It’s cold in the Council chamber. Sometimes, Qui-Gon wonders if the thermostat is deliberately set low, or if his own longstanding mental association of cold with danger makes him think it colder than it is. Either way, he feels chilled to the bone long before Yoda interrupts Nasriel in the middle of a sentence, and tells her briskly that he has heard enough.
“Suffered much, you have. Behaved as a Jedi should, hmm. Clear you to return to your normal status and freedoms, this Council does. Go, and may the Force be with you.”
Nasriel bows – a deep, apparently boneless motion where her forehead almost touches her knees – the gesture is common enough among younglings and Padawans. Fortuitously, the incidence of occasions where such an extravagant showing of respect is suitable decreases in direct proportion to normal age-related loss of flexibility. The younger generation may twist themselves into knots if they wish, but older Masters have neither any need nor any inclination to do so.
As Nasriel vacillates on the threshold of the Council Chamber, dismissed by the Grand Master but not by her own Master, Qui-Gon decides matters.
“Thank you, Nasriel. You can leave now. Go and translate your journal notes back into Basic.” The next few hours will be deeply disagreeable for all concerned, and, difficult as Qui-Gon has every reason to expect a full Council interrogation to be, he would still rather Nasriel did not have to witness it. Telling the entire story, unveiled, undecorated, and thoroughly unpleasant, to the stone-faced Council he has been trying for years to appall is one thing. Having his Padawan there, listening, and having to watch the trust slowly die in her eyes… is another entirely.
I wish I could remember the Basic for kynanze. I’ve been sitting here on the sofa for half an hour looking through Tahl’s old paper-copy dictionary for it and I still don’t know. And I’m nervous as all nine-Sith-hells – that’s not the best simile, not today – and Qui-Gon’s shutting me out again. I don’t know what the Council’s going to do to us… and I’m not sure I want to.
Later: Master Billaba came by, and I thought that it meant the meeting was over, and that that was a good thing. It wasn’t. She just wanted me to go for a walk with her, in the main concourse. The whole time, I was fidgety, and she knew it, and I kept trying to ask in the nicest possible way what was going on, and she knew that too. But she carried on talking trivialities as if my whole life wasn’t on the line, until finally I stopped dead in the middle of the hall.
“Please, Master Billaba, just explain why you’re keeping me out here.”
She looked down at her chrono and nodded, slowly. “Thank you for your patience, Padawan Threeb. I am no longer keeping you here. You are free to go.” So of course, I forgot all about the rules for proper behavior inside the Temple and ran home.
Obi-Wan was there again, standing just inside the door, arms folded, carefully avoiding my eyes.
“Hey, Bi-An, what did the Council decide?” I asked, and then looked around, to see that all the doors in the quarters were open, Tahl was in her room sorting piles of paper, and… “Where’s – where’s Qui-Gon?”
“You won’t be seeing him again,” Obi-Wan said tightly.
“I won’t be… Obi-Wan Kenobi, what the broad blue Wild Space is going on?”
“Qui’s leaving,” Tahl called, voice harsh. “They say he’s not a Jedi anymore. They’re throwing him out.”
“It is not that simple!” shouted Obi-Wan. He wasn’t bothering to shield at all, and his aura was bleeding pure pain. I guess it’s not easy being a member of the Council banishing the man who has been your mentor – your father, almost – for pretty much your whole life. But I still don’t have a lot of sympathy for Obi-Wan.
“What… happens to me?” I stumbled.
“You’ll go to Feemor as soon as he gets home. Until then, you’ll stay with Xan.” Seeing the look of horror on my face – not because of Xan and Feemor, I like them well enough, but because everything had been sorted out without asking me – Obi-Wan said dangerously, “It was all I could do to keep you off the orphans’ list, Sriel.”
Not answering, since I didn’t trust myself not to burst into tears all over again, I went to my room and closed the door. At least that way I didn’t do anything I’d regret. I still don’t know the Basic for kynanze, but it doesn’t matter anymore. That report’s never going to be written.
When Qui-Gon creeps stealthily home for the last time, it is late – or early, depending on one’s point of view. The moon slants in through a rare break in the ever-present clouds of a Coruscant winter, pouring a pool of liquid silver onto the polished blond wood of the floor, and penning impenetrable shadows in every hollow and corner.
In this uncertain light, it is some moments before he sees that Nasriel, for some unknown reason, is sleeping on the sofa, black hair an opaque sweep of ink on the moonlight-sketched monochrome of the room, Obi-Wan’s massive pet txakurra Blaze sprawled on the floor at her head.
“Nasriel…” Qui-Gon crouches beside her, gently shakes her awake.
“Fourth hour. Sh-sh-sh. I’m not supposed to be here.”
She blinks, fully awake, but puzzled. “Obi-Wan said I’d never see you again. What happened?”
What didn’t, he wants to mutter ruefully, but settles for, “Don’t worry, Nasriel. You’ll be all right.” He believes this whole-heartedly: Nasriel’s talent for survival has already been proven many times over. What is less certain is whether he will be all right. The Padawan notices, suddenly, what he is not saying, and sits up to look her Master in the face.
“So what’s happening now?”
“They’re sending me to Thalassia. Out of the way. I’m supposed to leave with Gree and Foz before dawn.” He halts; Nasriel waits, sensing there is more. There is. “I’m not going, minx. There’s work to be done that I can’t do buried at an outpost. I’ve worked it out with Gree. We’ll travel together as far as the interchange at Corellia, and then the Sentinels continue to their real destination – not Thalassia, the Priory – and I go my own way.”
“Can I come with you?”
“No.” Nasriel’s aura clouds, muddying the silver moonlight in the room, and Qui-Gon explains. “I won’t let you throw your life away like that.”
“But you don’t care about your own?”
“To tell you honestly, minx… I doubt I’ll be throwing away more than a few years.” He is seventy-one years old, and grimly aware that to survive his chosen lifestyle another five years would be nothing shy of a miracle. But then, as he has so often told all of his Padawans, life itself is a miracle.
“Are you really leaving to do something,” she asks, golden eyes wide and candid, “or are you running away from something?” The question does not sound as harsh as its component words do: she is merely curious. Nasriel slips down until she sits next to him on the floor.
“I’ve convinced Kijé to open the transcript from last night’s Council meeting for you. Draw your own conclusions from the data – you’re good at that.”
“Are you going to kill somebody?” the catechism continues.
“I may have to.” This is not a lie either: every mission carries the hazard, however remote, of having to kill somebody. Setting out alone, without the sanction or support of the Council, to seek out the most dangerous man – or woman; the mysterious Sidious could well be a woman – in the Galaxy… this does increase the hazard somewhat. It also increases the imminence of his own death.
“Then, I don’t want you to go without me,” the Padawan says calmly, shivering in the icy draft that breathes across the floor. She slides closer to him, the fuzzy fabric of her pajama pants gliding smoothly over the polished floor, and Qui-Gon tosses a fold of his cloak around her, hugs her casually, one-armed.
“Hard luck,” he says ruthlessly. “I am leaving. You are staying. There will be no further discussion.”
“D’you want your lightsaber?” Nasriel reminds him, smile glimmering into razor-edged life. She knows perfectly well that a Jedi’s lightsaber is his life, as much a part of him as another limb. Does he want it…?
“Is Master Windu bald? Of course I’ll need it.” That is not quite what she asked, but want enters very little into any of the decisions that have been, or will be, made in these quiet hours between sunset and dawn.
“Well, if you want it back, you’ll have to promise me one thing.” And unless he is willing to take the weapon by force, he will have to abide by Nasriel’s terms: she is wearing it clipped next to her own lightsaber on her belt, slung carelessly around her waist, covered by the knee-length pajama shirt.
“What do you want?”
“Promise you’ll come back. Or – or else give me permission to come and find you, either after a year and a day, or when I sense you’re in serious trouble, whichever comes first.”
“I can’t promise to come back. But… I will give you permission to come looking for me, on the condition that you are sensible and don’t try coming alone.”
“Deal.” His lightsaber slaps into his open palm, and Nasriel snuggles closer, head on his shoulder, as tranquil as if this were not their last conversation for many months or perhaps ever. “Hey, it’s all over now, but I’m still… curious. Now that you’re leaving me again… would you tell me one thing?”
“What’s that, chen?” The Padawan’s again is ringing alarm bells in his head, suggesting a weighty question on the horizon, and the Saalisan hypocorism gives her tacit permission to switch to that language – long established between them as the vocabulary of private discussions – if she would prefer.
She would. “Solvi no vehl xek kersen yu? Pyn Laerdocia, yu terezen. Yu varel no, Qui-Gon, yu… sirevaed no, sh no vehl yknalen yu. V yu sihroest: solvi?”
“Nu siweret tzoro? Nataz, nuen kan.” While he could answer the question in Saalisan and be fairly sure of getting his point across, this is too important to take even the slightest risk of miscommunication. Basic, then. “The reason I didn’t rescue you is, in the simplest possible language… I didn’t know you were gone until it was too late. Even then I thought I would have at least a few hours to find you at Laerdocia. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d found you there, either. It would have ended in death – certainly others’, possibly mine, and probably yours.”
“You only had ten minutes to find me at Laerdocia,” Nasriel says, voice an odd blend of black humor and buried pain. “And – and there are worse things than dying, Master.”
“Look, you must have done your best; I know that because you’re you. If your best isn’t good enough, there’s not a lot you can do about it. You don’t need to be sorry for that,” the Padawan murmurs. “Because there was nothing you could have done. But can you contrive to be sorry for leaving me now?”
Qui-Gon sighs. He is deeply, deeply sorry to be leaving again… and sorrier still for the circumstances, finally come to light, that are forcing him to leave. “I’ll be gone in half an hour, and I have to be out of the Core by eighth hour. I’ll wait one day at Corellia, and if you still want to come with me after you’ve read the Council transcript, and if Xanatos will allow you to come, then so be it.”
“I’ll still want to,” Nasriel says with quiet certainty. “I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t.”
“You may find your imagination challenged, then, minx.” He has every intention of waiting a week at Corellia before going on to his destination… and little enough hope that he will not be traveling on alone. Here, in the moment, though, his Padawan is crying without shame, turning awkwardly to wrap her arms around his neck. He hugs her back, fiercely, and decides to hell with the Order’s official injunctions against attachment: more than likely this will be the last time.
“Why do I have to lose everything?” the girl demands in a choked voice, words jerky with suppressed weeping.
“Not everything. Not even anything terribly important. Just me.” Quicksilver tears glisten on Nasriel’s cheeks; he brushes them gently away with the pad of his thumb, only noticing the roughness of his skin when compared to the smoothness of hers. “Deep breath. You’ll be all right.”
“Mm-hm.” Uncertainty fighting mad hope. “Be safe.” Knowing the words are empty, and saying them anyway.
Qui-Gon stands, slowly; lays Nasriel down on the sofa again, tucks the blanket back around her. Still snared in an obstinate embrace, he takes a minute to gently disengage himself from the Padawan’s grasp.
“You have to let me go, minx.” They have given him the choice between Thalassia and a thanatosine containment cell, and if he is still here when dawn breaks, They will take it that he has not chosen Thalassia. The faint greyness on the very edge of the horizon warns that he is cutting things very fine. Pressed for time, he cannot spare the few minutes to say goodbye to Tahl. He is not even supposed to have come to say goodbye to Nasriel: They said it would be better if he simply vanished, left the girl to get on with her life. But, “Look after Tahl for me,” he asks.
“I’ll tell Bi-An you said so. ‘Cause by this time tomorrow I’ll be at Corellia with you.” Nasriel’s eyes start to drift shut – after all, it is nearly fifth hour, and she was up late last night.
“I hope you will.” He knows she won’t. “May the Force be with you, Nasriel Threeb. Goodbye.”
“You’ve never said that to me before,” the Padawan mumbles, falling over the brink of sleep.
Qui-Gon does not reply, but slips out silently, closing the door, and wends his way down through the Temple into the sublevels to meet Gree and Foz, and thence into the dark streets of the early morning, pack shouldered, making for the municipal spaceport to catch a shuttle to Corellia.
“Why didn’t you rescue me? At Laerdocia, I mean. I love you, Qui-Gon, I… trust you, but you abandoned me. And I’m asking: why?”
“You want the truth? All right, you’re brave.”