It had been a long day for Eladh. The initiates had been particularly rowdy. It was Choosing Day for Jedi Knights looking for a Padawan. While there were celebrations for those initiates chosen, Eladh had to deal with the sadness of losing them and the disappointment of those not chosen, particularly those who were too old and would be sent away. The children may have silently accepted their fates and boarded their transports, but Eladh knew the heartbreak they felt; he had personally experienced it. With time, he had come to accept his place, and those whose places were decided this day would also, but it still hurt to see.
Breathing deeply to relax himself at the end of the day, the Dimnara man entered the ward he cared over. Thankfully, other masters had been available to tuck the little ones into bed. Yet outside the sleeprooms, he found one of his charges awake and up on a table.
"Qui-Gon, what are you doing?" Eladh lifted the boy, who promptly struggled and cried until he was hushed. "You should be in bed, little one." He carried the crecheling to his accustomed rest spot and tucked him in. Knowing how mischievous the young ones got, and Qui-Gon was no exception, Eladh stayed nearby to make sure he did not leave the bed again.
"Come on, children. Quiet now."
Mallora tried to gather the children for their walk, but she could not get much of a response.
"Here, Malie, you have to show them you are in charge." Eladh turned to the children and lifted his voice. "Everyone in line and quiet or no playtime today." The younglings hastened to obey, their little faces smiling innocently at the Master and young girl.
"But, Master, isn't that just bribing them rather than teaching them proper behavior?"
"They're very young. That's all they understand. They will grow out of it, then you teach them to behave for the right reasons."
Mallora sighed. "Thank you. I just don't think they'll listen to me."
"They will, Malie. You just need some time to adjust to them and they to you. You'll learn how best to take care of them." He smiled at her, but his expression warped into a frown. While they had been talking, he was counting the children; there was one missing.
As Eladh went looking for the absent child, he thought about the new hand around the creche. Malie was one of the initiates who was not chosen yesterday. She was instead now assigned to a similar path as he, though she was less comfortable with the duty than he had been back then. He was, however, confident that she would grow to be a helping presence.
"There you are." Eladh found Qui-Gon in a similar situation as the previous night. This time though his little hand was touching the petals of the flower Eladh had set on the table. He lifted the boy but stood a moment looking at the flower pensively. It had hardly wilted despite being weeks since Qui-Gon had picked it and given it to him. Now he began to understand; when no one was looking, Qui-Gon clambered onto the table and renewed the bud with a supply of Living Force energy. "Did you do that?" Eladh said and touched the young one's cheek. Qui-Gon only giggled.
"Here we go." Eladh returned with Qui-Gon and placed him in the line next to his friend Raniwasha. "Keep your eye on these two," he whispered to Malie. She thought he was joking but took note of the two just in case.
She was not taking them far, only to a park close to the Temple where they could get some fresh air and sun. On the way, they would pass through a market where the children could see normal everyday people working and interacting.
This, however, turned out to be the bane of the exercise as one of the two she was keeping particular watch on constantly stopped to look at some shiny ware or to chat to someone.
"What an adorable child!" one woman was exclaiming as Mallora moved to the rear of the line to fetch Qui-Gon back to the group.
"Stay together," she commanded as she linked Qui-Gon's hand to Rani's, proud that she had thought of a solution to the child's wandering but part of her hoping the two would not simply wander together.
They reached the park without loss, and Malie designated the area the children were to stay in. The younglings ran about playing, nearly tearing Malie in two (or more) with their activity. Fortunately, she was also young and could just about keep up. She had forgotten how much the crechelings could do with only some space to play.
In only slight disarray, Malie called them together to go home. After counting, she found no one missing. "What a relief!" she sighed.
"What about a red leaf, Mawie?" Tanna, a young Mirialan girl spoke up.
Malie chuckled. "Nothing, young one. On your way."
The children obediently followed Malie back through the market toward home. About halfway there, Lila turned to Rani.
"Hey, where's Qui-Gon?"
Rani looked around and shrugged. Lila poked him. "You better say something."
He shrugged again but went up to Mallora and tugged on her tunic. "Malie, Malie!"
She stopped and looked at him. "What is it, dear?"
"Qui-Gon's gone," Rani nonchalantly informed her.
"Wha-?" She looked back and saw he was indeed not with them. She froze in terror, panic taking over, but she tamped it down and tried to think what to do. "Where did you last see him?"
Rani shrugged yet again. "At the park."
Mallora almost ran straight back, but decided on a better plan. With any luck, Qui-Gon would still be somewhere in the park. First, she would lead the others home safely, and then she would go look for him there. She hoped she would not get in too much trouble.
Qui-Gon walked along as he had before, again holding Rani's hand, receiving a little tug from his friend every time his attention wandered and he fell behind.
As they moved along, he glanced back toward the park. Behind them, he saw a little moving shape. Something called to him, and he released Rani's hand, which apparently Raniwasha did not notice.
Young Jinn headed in the direction he felt pulled toward, chasing after the movement that seemed to be a ball of fur. As he got closer, it looked like a tiny black kitten.
"Here, kitty," he said quietly as he caught up to the baby animal and picked him up.
"I won't hurt you." The kitten sniffed his hands then looked up at Qui-Gon.
He softly rubbed the kitten's chin. "Are you lost?" Qui-Gon looked around and suddenly realized his feet had carried him to the middle of the park; he did not know how to get home. "So am I."
Qui-Gon was not frightened. He sat underneath a tree and petted the kitten. He held him close to his face and got his nose licked. "Hey!" he laughed.
Qui-Gon laughed some more and put the little cat in his lap. The tiny creature suddenly yawned, and Qui-Gon followed suit. "Yeah, I'm pretty tired too. We had a lot of fun today, me and Rani and our friends. Maybe you'll get to see them." Rubbing his eyes, Qui-Gon was overcome by sleepiness and rested back, stretching out beneath the shady locale. The kitten walked in a circle on his chest before curling into a ball. Qui-Gon's hands rested protectively over the baby cat as they both fell asleep.
Malie had been so surprised when she had told Eladh what happened and he did not get angry. Instead, he told her she did what she thought was right and rushed her off to go find Qui-Gon. She was so worried that some terrible misdeed had befallen him that she could not find it in herself to go fast enough.
Only after she had scoured the park and finally found Qui-Gon asleep under a tree did she relax.
"Qui-Gon?" She gently roused him. As he sat up, a creature jumped out from under his hands and Malie was startled for a moment.
Qui-Gon blinked at her with weary sapphire eyes.
"Qui-Gon, where did you go? You had me so worried!" she started to reprimand him.
The boy frowned. "I'm real sorry, Malie. I saw this little guy, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. He's lost. Then I was lost too, and tired. So we took a nap."
She sighed. "Just come on, let's go home."
Qui-Gon gathered the animal in his hands and stood up, ready for the trek.
"Qui-Gon, I, uh, I don't know that you should bring him with us."
"But he has nowhere to go! He's all alone!"
"Well - I think it will be all right." Malie thought at the least the Masters could find a good home for the animal, if he could not stay with the children.
"You were sent to bring back the child."
"The parents decided not to relinquish their baby."
"We can't have an untrained Force-user on the loose!"
"We can't force them to give us their child. It is their choice and their right to keep him."
Joran breathed out in a quiet huff. Master Ora and Knight Segun had been arguing for the past few minutes, and he felt his normally substantial patience wearing thin. When Yoda had told him he would get to observe a Council session, he had thought he might get to hear some wise discussions or important debates or that there might even be a mission from the Senate, but so far it was some mind-numbing talk about some potential Jedi infant that Segun had been sent to retrieve but returned without.
"This Council will not bully innocent people nor will the Jedi become kidnappers."
Joran carefully rolled his eyes. He was sure that was not what Ora meant, though he tended to be on the Knight's side of the argument; he had not chosen to let this particular conversation worry him. It seemed to be more of a personal disagreement anyway.
Learn one can in many ways. Attention a Jedi must always pay.
Joran Dooku jumped as his Master's mental voice intruded on his thoughts. Of course, Master. I just thought there would be matters of more importance to deliberate.
With the young ones the future lies. Important they are! Perhaps to spend some time in the creche will remind you.
Joran flinched outwardly, but knew the punishment for his impatience could not be avoided. Yes, Master.
"Oh, he's adorable," Rani heard Lila exclaim, and a bunch of the others repeated it and similar phrases. He saw them around Qui-Gon and headed over himself.
Qui-Gon beamed as he approached. "What you got there, little guy?"
"A kitten!" Qui-Gon cried in much merriment. "He's our new friend." He scratched the animal's ear. "Here, you wanna see him?" Qui-Gon held up the creature.
Raniwasha peered closely at the kitten, and the kitten looked back curiously. "He's cute."
"Go on, hold him."
"Nah, he's okay, besides he probably likes you better."
Qui-Gon laughed. He and Rani and the rest sat by the garden pond and played with the animal, taking turns holding and petting him until he decided to get up and run across their laps. Then he escaped and some of the children chased him. They could not catch him, and he skittered back to Qui-Gon who still sat at the water's edge.
Meow! the kitten cried to him.
He laughed again. "You'll never get him to come to you if you chase him," he told the others.
Mow! the little cat added to enforce the point.
"Hey, what did the Masters say about keeping him?" Colla asked.
Qui-Gon's answer was interrupted by Crage's sneeze. Everyone looked at him.
They shrugged and turned away. "Eladh said it was all right. He can stay!"
"You mean we get to have this kitten around all the time?" Rani asked.
Again, Qui-Gon was cut off by Crage, and again he drew everyone's attention.
"Stop looking at me!" he told them as he scratched his arm.
"Yeah, isn't it great?" Qui-Gon answered his friend.
They went back to watching the kitten scamper around, but a moment later Crage went into a sneezing fit and furiously scratched at his arms and face.
"Um, Crage, you all right?" Tanna asked him.
"No," he said, shaking his head. He started to gasp for breath. The children all got up and began to yell and make such a commotion that it only took a moment to get their caretaker's attention.
Eladh quickly appeared and surveyed the scene. His senses told him through the noise that there was a problem with Crage. He scooped up the little Alderaanian and whisked him away. The others were left to settle on their own.
Rani had already been tucked into bed, so Qui-Gon was getting ready for sleep too. The kitten sat next to Qui-Gon's cub on his sleepcouch watching him. Only his eyes following Qui-Gon let on that he was not another stuffed toy. Qui-Gon was in his sleepclothes and ready to get under the covers, except he could not find his bear. He was about to give up his search when he heard Lorn behind him.
"Missing something?" he taunted.
Qui-Gon turned to him with a thoughtful frown. "Do you know where my bear is?"
Lorn stepped right up to Qui-Gon. "It isn't yours. You aren't good enough for it."
"Did you take it? Give it back!"
Lorn pushed young Jinn. "No way."
"There's no way I'm giving you anything. You almost killed Crage."
"What? I didn't do anything."
"You and your stupid cat-" Lorn pushed the kitten off the sleepcouch; the kitten fell to the floor with a cry but landed on his feet, "-made him sick. He couldn't even breathe. And it's your fault." Lorn shoved Qui-Gon with all his might. Qui-Gon fell on the floor. Lorn threw a pillow, which struck him in the face. "Crage hates you for what you did to him. Nobody likes you. You should leave."
Lorn glared at him and stomped away to wash up. Qui-Gon pushed himself to his feet, wiped at his eyes, and ran into the hallway, the kitten at his heels.
There was one more roomful of crechelings to tuck in, Eladh thought as he entered that room. He began to check on the children when he came to an empty sleepcouch. Not to his surprise, it was Qui-Gon's, nor did anyone admit to knowing where he was.
Finishing the task at hand, Eladh at last went in search of his commonly wayward charge. He was found huddled in a corner at the end of the corridor. Eladh did not overlook the signs that he had been crying. The kitten was in a ball on his shoulder. Eladh nudged him, and he jumped down. He lifted Qui-Gon and carried him to a safe depository: his own quarters.
He made Qui-Gon, who had stirred very little, comfortable in his own bed. The kitten started to climb up so Eladh helped by lifting him up to Qui-Gon. The little animal walked in circles before lying down on the pillow above Qui-Gon's head. Eladh would not need the berth for a while; he had some business to tend.
The corridors were mostly empty and quiet, save for some of the more nocturnal inhabitants of the Temple. Eladh reached his destination and would have knocked, but the door flew open and he was nearly barreled into by Atash Ora. She went around him, and he thought that the apparently unhappy Master must not have noticed him for surely she would then have knocked him down.
He entered Master Yoda's apartment to see the old Jedi leaning on his walking stick sighing deeply. Padawan Dooku must have been awakened by Ora's discussion with her mentor because he stood in the doorway to his room in sleeppants and now turned to get back to his rest.
Yoda looked up at his entrance. "Eladh, so many guests at this hour. Full moon, there must be. How help you can I?"
"I am sorry to disturb you, Master Yoda, but I have a request to make, and I could use some advice."
Eladh wondered if there were ever a way to tell if Yoda were actually tired as he gazed at the creche master with those heavy-lidded orbs. "Ah, please sit."
The Dimnara seated himself upon the low sofa.
"Oh, since here you are, I must inform you that an extra hand in the creche you will be having for a few days." Eladh looked up as a moan came from the other room. Yoda lifted his voice to say, "Asleep at this hour Padawans should be." There were no further noises. "Now, please, what need you?"
"I need permission to move one of the crechelings into his own room. He has been subject to torment from some of the other children because of his strength in the Living Force. I think it would be best if he could have a little room to stretch out, and where he will be safe from the bullies. I hate to see any of the children treated the way he is."
"Hmm, single out any of the children we should not. Perhaps to deal with the misguided children the more productive course it is."
"Yes, Master, that is what I want your guidance on. I believe I know who the antagonists are, but I'm not sure what to do with them. It may still be advisable to separate the child, just so he has a little refuge. There is a small room not far from the others he could use."
Yoda looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded in authorization. "Also, find a proper punishment we will. Set these young ones back on the correct path, we must."
When they had settled on a course, Eladh returned to his quarters and Qui-Gon and lay himself down on his sofa to rest.
In the morning, Qui-Gon had breakfast with Eladh and explained what transpired the night before and listened to Eladh's plan for him.
"But what about my friends? Rani?"
"You'll still get to see them. There won't really be any differences. You just get a quiet place to go when you need it. Nobody can bother you."
He showed Qui-Gon the room he would be in. The boy looked around. Eladh had fixed it up before breakfast. The flower Qui-Gon tended daily was now easily reached beside the bed, and there were other plants spread throughout the room. The kitten he had saved was curled on his bed.
"How do you like it?" Eladh asked.
Qui-Gon looked up at him and replied, "It's nice. Thank you, Master."
Eladh smiled. "Why don't you stay in here for a while and get used to it?"
Qui-Gon nodded and hopped on the sleepcouch as the master exited. He closed his eyes and felt the Force flow through him in a technique he had been taught.
A while later, Qui-Gon was brought from his immersion in the all-encompassing energy by a knock at the door. Opening the door, he saw Crage standing there. He looked a bit red and puffy but not angry.
"Hi, Qui-Gon. I just wanted you to know that I'm okay. I guess I'm allergical to your cat, or somethin' like that, but the healer gave me some stuff so that won't happen again."
"Oh, that's good. I'm sorry you got sick."
"It wasn't your fault. I- I heard Lorn was being really mean to you. I didn't tell him to! I don't really like him. He just wanted me to hang out with him so we could make fun of you, but you're not so bad."
"Thanks... I think." Qui-Gon frowned, but then he laughed and Crage joined him.
"Hey, you wanna come play? I think Ran is looking for you."
"Sure! Let's go!"
Eladh watched Qui-Gon sleeping peacefully. He already seemed happier. He hugged his bear close now that he had it back. Eladh was not surprised when he found it stuffed in the drawer with Lorn's tunics. Lorn and his friends were given additional lessons and several extra meditation sessions with Yoda for their unkind treatment of Qui-Gon. He was not sure it would change their behavior, but he hoped. He had done as much as he could for now and so left the little ones to their rest, leaving Qui-Gon's room. The door slipped securely shut behind him.